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The Limits of Ebay Buyer Protection: Is Ebay buyers' protection real? A Personal Story

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Editor's note: This happened to an editor of foodconsumer.org.  Ebay may contact us for the contact information for the writer if it has any arguement.  Readers are welcome to send us your comments or your stories.

I - You just can't trust what Ebay promises when it comes to their Ebay Buyer protection.

The Ebay's resolution means essentially that if a buyer makes a mistake, then his payment will become a donation to the seller through ebay buyers protection.

Here is a story, say you found an item on Ebay and you wanted to buy it.  But you naturally hesitated to do so because you didn't know anything about the seller.  You checked the rating of the seller, which says 99.6 percent positive. You may have felt the seller should be pretty trustworthy.  Most importantly, you saw a sign that says "eBay Buyer Protection covers your purchase price plus original shipping."  Now you felt absolutely certain that it is safe to buy the item from the merchant. 

You placed the order!   However Ebay placed your old address as the shipping address automatically and it does not tell the old from the new and you did not realize the one in the shipping address field was an old address.  Then you notified the seller of the error and requested the seller to change the address.  The seller told you that it can't change it because if it does, it will lose the (ebay seller's) protection.  That is an ebay's policy, you are so told.

Then regardless, the seller forged ahead to ship the item to the wrong address after you contacted them and you were told that the item was not shipped at the time of your contact.  You were told that you would be refunded when the seller recieves the returned item. Sounds good.

But the process of waiting to be refunded was so long and so frustrating and you pressed the seller to tell you when they are going to refund your order. You did not get response indicating how and when this issue would be resolved. You wanted to get a definitive answer, so you thought of Ebay's help.

You recalled what you saw on Ebay's website when you placed your order. The sign says loud and clear "Ebay Buyer Protection covers your purchase price plus original shipping."  So you called Ebay.  Ebay told you that you should fill out the form at the resolution center on its website and Ebay will help you from there.  Sounds great.

You spent 5 or 10 minutes or longer time telling Ebay the details of what happened and wanted Ebay's help to get the refund.  

Ebay promised it would respond within 24 hours as said on its website.  And it did.

Then you received an email from Ebay.  It says as follows, cited in verbatim:

Hi, (your Ebay user id, omitted here to protect privacy)"

eBay Customer Support has reviewed the case and made a final decision. We've considered the case carefully and decided not to issue you a refund. We're sorry this didn't work out.

This case has been decided in the seller's favor.

You didn't provide a valid shipping address when you bought the item.

This is not a fictional story.    That is exactly what happened to me.  And I was shocked.  I can't believe a merchant in this country could take a payment, but won't refund or deliver the ordered item!  The Ebay's resolution means essentially that if a buyer makes a mistake, then his payment will become a donation to the seller through ebay buyers protection.

Let us take a look at what Ebay means when it presents its Ebay's buyer protection, cited from Ebay's website in verbatim:

EBay Buyer Protection covers items purchased on eBay with eligible payment methods that are not received or not as described in the listing. Some purchases aren't covered, such as items listed or that should be listed in the Motors (except for Parts and Accessories) and Real Estate categories, and most prohibited or restricted items. Most Business and Industrial categories are covered by eBay Buyer Protection.
Remember, eBay Buyer Protection doesn't cover fraudulent charges or most cases of buyer remorse. Also, items must be purchased on the U.S. eBay.com website to qualify for eBay Buyer Protection coverage, and are covered for 45 days from the date of payment. Purchases made on Half.com and classified listings on eBayclassifieds.com or eBay.com, or items purchased on the eBay Digital Music Center aren't covered. Generally, you must pay for the item in one lump sum to be covered.
Terms, conditions and full details of eBay Buyer Protection

In my case, this statement is a lie!  There is no protection in my case.  Ebay did not explain why I should not get a refund.  One thing for sure is that I put an error on the order form, and I was not allowed to correct it and Ebay did not allow a refund!

Next time, when you see the sign saying "Ebay's buyer's protection", do not take its face value.  It is a bait to lure you to make a purchase.  My experience indicates that you just can't trust Ebay's promise.

Good news is that, the seller was kind enough, even though it takes more than one month to get this done, to send me a refund regardless of Ebay's decision and lack of buyer protection.  What if your seller on Ebay is not as nice as the one I met?   My order is small ($20.50), what if you pay a large sum and end up getting nothing?  

II - How to avoid losing money on Ebay?

A) The biggest problem with Ebay, to me, is its payment system called Paypal.  Paypal was purchased by Ebay years back.  Because when you use your credit card, you can always refuse to pay if you do not receive the good you order, and even if you pay the money, you can get it back through your credit card company.  But with Paypal and Ebay mingled together, your chance to get the money back from an ebay seller may not be as good.

The solution: always use credit card and avoid using Paypal, which means you should always avoid using Ebay because Ebay requires buyers to make payments through Paypal.

B) Avoid Ebay, you then don't have experience what I did.  Amazon.com is a good marketplace, compared to Ebay.  I purchased many more items from amazon.com over the years than ebay.com, and I have never had any issue.  Responses from amazon and its sellers are always prompt and courteous.  On amazon.com, you use credit card, and if the seller does not behave, you resort to your credit card company. That is probably why, it seems to me, that amazon.com sellers never give me any trouble.  They know their liability. At least they know they don't have Ebay's seller's protection!!!

C) If you do buy something from Ebay, then what if the seller did not deliver the item or give you an item which is far worse than you expected and Ebay did not want to help you or instead it helps the seller?

Make sure that you behave as a gentleman as you are and talk to the seller in a professional way.  Try not to get emotional.  Don't complain how awful it is or how bad you feel about the experience (no one would care anyway).  Tell the seller to do what you think is reasonable.  If you can't get a satisfying answer or you are certain you can get what you are supposed to get from the merchant, consider doing the following:

1) Complain to BBB.  BBB may not always help you what you want.  But at least, your complaint will leave a mark on the record of a merchant, which can remind other buyers that this merchant has ever had issues with buyers.  Not all sellers would mind your doing so.  But some may do.

2) Send your written complaint to your Attorney General.  Again, your attorney general may not help in a way you want him to.  But when complaints pile up against a merchant, the Attorney General will take action to protect residents in his state. 

3) Many states have consumer protection agencies that are supposedly to protect the interest of consumers.  Talk to them.

4) Talk to media editors and journalists to see if they would make a story out of your experience. Bad merchants deserve some negative exposure!

5) Use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to get your message out.  Yes, your loss may be small, but your experience can help many others from falling pray to bad merchants like the one that victimized you.

6) Write your story and send to tens of thousands of websites where free articles are hosted, your article may be picked by many other websites and exposed to tens of thousands of readers.

7) Don't forget to complain to the Federal Trade commission or FTC. The FTC will not help you directly.  But after you file your complaint to the FTC, many legal professionals may do something when they see something serious like a trend of business misconduct.

8) Complain to a small claims court.  Even if you do not eventually get the money, a judgement in flavor of you is a win for you and a defeat for your seller!  By the way, post the ajudgement on the internet and let millions of peer shoppers to know of what happened.

(Send your news to foodconsumer.org@gmail.com, Foodconsumer.org is part of the Infoplus.com ™ news and information network)

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