Is eBay scheme targeting American sellers?

A friend and former patient, who supplements her social security income by selling her departed husband’s collectibles on eBay was confiding in me about the troubles she recently had with Chinese buyers/schemers. She has been very happy otherwise with eBay and PayPal for the past 10 years, accumulating glowing buyers’ feedbacks and a 100 percent positive rating.

Not all Chinese buyers are dishonest, of course, but it seems that there is in China, like there is in Nigeria and India, a group of schemers/fleecers making a good living buying fraudulently on eBay. EBay and PayPal employees turn their heads the other way. China is a huge market. EBay and PayPal are not policing buyers there, working on the formula they have adopted for the past five years: “All sellers are thieves, all buyers are innocent.” Only sellers deserve to be punished.

The scam is simple and efficient. It’s prevalent in China, but I am sure other far away markets are using it, too. Why not, they are getting away with legalized thievery.

1) At the last second a Chinese bidder places a high bid and wins the item. In 99 percent of the cases, he has no feedback and has been buying on eBay only recently… it seems… There is no way for the seller to fend those late automated bids. He/she is powerless.

2) The money is quickly paid via PayPal. The seller follows all PayPal directions, including the one mandating the item to be sent to the address given to PayPal by the buyer and given to the seller by PayPal. This is one of their “written in stone” rules. The item is carefully packed and sent to China, with, of course, a tracking number. Everything has been properly done and covered (or so thinks the seller). And then the nightmare begins.

3) Two weeks go by and the seller receives an email from the buyer that he/she has not received the item. The panicky seller contacts international claims and is told that the item is in China, has been in China for a while and has not been claimed. The address provided to PayPal by the buyer and to the seller by PayPal turns out to be some hotel room or other undeliverable place. The seller emails the buyer to let him know that the item is in his post office in China. He has to go and pick it up.

Meanwhile the buyer contacts PayPal and demands his money back while at the same time bombarding the seller with emails: Where is my item? Where is my item? Where is my item?

4) The seller, who has followed all the rules instituted by eBay/PayPal, receives a form letter from PayPal: “Dear So and So, we have ruled in favor of our beleaguered, innocent, mistreated Chinese buyer. $3,000 are being taken out of your PayPal account and refunded to him.” And that’s that. No representation, no recourse, absolute dictatorship. As soon as the schemer gets his money he goes to his Chinese post office (and I am sure some of the employees there are part of the ring) and claims the item. He has the piece and he has the money. In other words he stole $3,000 from that American seller, with help and solace from two American companies, eBay and PayPal. He changes his buyer’s eBay identification and goes looking for another American victim.

It’s kind of sad. I feel sorry for defenseless elderly Americans trying to eke out a living on eBay. Who is defending them against those foreign scoundrels? Time for eBay and PayPal to take a look at themselves and see what they are doing to those who helped them reach the heights they have attained in our modern world. Makes you sick, doesn’t it? And finally the “coup de grace”: The seller/victim receives a negative feedback plus dire warnings from eBay/PayPal.

— Roger Malebranche

Broadalbin, N.Y.

P.S. Thanks, Antique Trader, for allowing the powerless to have a voice.