May 2007
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Wannabe banks

If the Halifax former building society want to be treated like a bank, they should act like one.  There we are with a hundred quid in silver, saved up over many years in a Cadbury’s Roses jar, and she’s all like "only five bags a day".  It does say this on the counter too.  But I mean, how much effort is it really?  They don’t count the coins.  They don’t even have to pour them into a sorting machine.  She took my five bags behind a partition and presumably weighed them, as the whole thing only took about 30 seconds – including the walk.  It might have taken 40 seconds if she’d accepted my full deposit.

Apparently this restriction doesn’t apply to kids’ accounts.  Clearly high revenue earners for the banks, children.  Especially the ones who have a freaking mortgage with them, like me.

I’m not done though.  Sorry, there’s more.

PayPal.  For crying out loud.

Last week I attempted to get a refund on a transaction from a seller that has proved to be less than honest.  Claire found a nice little sideline in used printer cartridges, buying them from eBay and either recycling at a profit, or sending them to Tesco for 100 Green Clubcard points each – that’s £4 a pop if you use the points towards a Virgin holiday to you know where, or some other Clubcard Deals.  I paid through PayPal using my MBNA credit card to earn BMI diamond club miles, towards yet another holiday to you know where.

I have no problem with naming and shaming here.  Hopefully search engines will pick this up so that anybody who wants to check out the seller will find our story: Image Warehouse (eBay name imagewarehouse) sold a box of empty Lexmark inkjet cartridges that were just not up to the job.  Listed as virgin (not yet refilled) and official, they were mostly neither – a box full of poor quality "compatible" cartridges that were in no state to be recycled.  Some of them had literally fallen apart.

The seller agreed that we could return the box for a refund, which in itself cost about £60.  Since then he’s not responded to a single email, despite still apparently doing a healthy business on eBay.  Right now, he’s had 17 negative comments in the last month, but he shifts enough stuff that this only equates to a 99.3% positive feedback rating.  Most buyers wouldn’t even look any further than that.

The problem with PayPal – for buyers dealing with another country, at least – lies in the fact that they will only open a dispute within 45 days of purchase.  These cartridges were sent surface mail from the USA so took about five weeks to arrive.  After sending them back, it was clearly way past 45 days before we could be sure that the guy was ripping us off.  PayPal won’t help and Mastercard won’t start a chargeback over a "quality of goods issue", even though I have emails stating he would refund and proof of shipping.  That just encourages honest citizens to lie to their bank and say that it’s a fraudulent transaction, surely?  Telling the truth sure as hell doesn’t do any good when the "buyer protection" policies just aren’t worth a damn.  We’re pretty much screwed on this one.

On the other hand…

I’ve also been on the seller side of a dispute.  A web site I took over a few years ago included a store that sells downloadable software and web traffic.  It’s far from being a retirement plan, but it does get the occasional order.  The software sales work just fine, but since it’s way down my priority list, I’ve not bothered to keep up to date with traffic prices from various suppliers that I’d resell from and I’ve not accepted an order for some time.  I actually care about this web site so little that, rather than hack about with a mess of a web site, I just decided to put a message at the top of the page saying that these products weren’t unavailable.  Unashamedly cheap, but I thought it might do the job.

You can see the message here:

It’s not subtle, is it?

Still, I got an order last month for $129.95 and about an hour later – as it didn’t instantly arrive – the buyer put in a complaint with PayPal.  Doing so locked those funds pending a review so I couldn’t use them, even to send a refund.  As the buyer clearly couldn’t be bothered to read the massive red text warning, as far as I was concerned he could wait a little while for his refund now – I wasn’t going to make a deposit in order to pay him back and then wait weeks while PayPal decided if I could have my money back, or if he’d actually get refunded twice.

The only option for any kind of communication open to me was to submit tracking information for the sale.  I did this, selecting delivery method "online" and tracking number "none", and wrote a message in the comments field to explain that this actually wasn’t tracking information, but it was all I could do.  The email confirmation they sent after submitting the information did not contain the comments I’d entered, nor were they visible anywhere in the PayPal screens.  I’m not sure if anyone ever read these – it doesn’t look like it – and obviously I don’t have an exact copy, but from memory it went a little something like this:

"This product ordered is not available at present, as is stated clearly on the order page.  Buyer needs to pay more attention before entering payment details online.  Please refund the buyer in full – I cannot do this as the funds in my account are frozen."

Weeks pass, and I hear nothing.  Then this:

"According to the User Agreement, PayPal’s Buyer Complaint Policy applies only to the postage of goods and not to services and other intangible goods.  For that reason, we are unable to take any action regarding this complaint."

Result?  Err… no.

Now it’s his turn to be screwed by a brain dead PayPal policy that, really, is an open door to online fraudsters.  If someone is prepared to send you money with PayPal for anything that you don’t have to ship (software, a web site subscription, an e-book, etc) then you simply do not have to deliver and the buyer has no comeback at all.  Why not try it?  There’s a lot of money to be made if you’re that way inclined.

This result in my favour is no consolation to me really.  I could keep the $129.95 to offset what I’ve lost on the other deal, but then I’d be as bad as Ron from Image Warehouse.  I’m still going to refund this poor sucker eventualy.  First I just want to make sure he knows how fucked up PayPal really is. (*)

(*) I considered censoring my language here, in case it jeopardised search engine indexing, but a quick search for "paypal fucked up" reveals that I’m not the first to say it, and that it’s just fine and dandy with Google.  Good job.