RISC World

PayPal - When things go wrong

Mike Battersby

As an auction buyer I prefer Paypal to, for example, Bidpay as it is the seller who pays the fees and the payment is instant. As a seller I would not be so sure.

Apart from being a convenient way to pay, however, Paypal offers protection to buyers when things go wrong. This can include non-delivery of an item or the item delivered being very different from the description given. If the seller has Paypal buyer protection then the service level is that much greater and covers up to £250 at no further cost. eBay's own protection scheme covers only up to £120 and charges a £15 fee which makes it useless for items less than about £25 in value.

If a listed item has Paypal's buyer protection then the logo below is shown in the upper part of the listing.

This can encourage bidders to bid for the item so benefits sellers as well as buyers.

So how does it work?

Well the first thing to remember is that a claim must be submitted within 30 days of the Paypal payment being made. In my opinion this is too short a time as any international transaction that is subject to even minimal delay may not be completed in that time if the postal service is dragging its feet. Hence in the case of non-delivery it is advisable to put in a claim if the 30 days are nearly up even if you think there is a reasonable chance that the item may still arrive. This is a bit short-sighted by Paypal I think as their agents will end up spending time on claims that may have never been initiated if delivery were given a bit more time. As it is you can always withdraw a claim if the item turns up late.

Clicking on the Buyer Protection logo shown above takes you through a set of steps to the Paypal claim service by choosing to "Learn more" or "File a claim".

Initially you will be taken to the eBay purchase protection help page as shown below.

From here choosing "Learn more" will take you to Paypal which of course is now part of eBay but has a separate domain name. After being given further info you will have the option to "File a claim". Following that link will require you to sign in and then start the claim process.

Paypal specifically asks you to use their "Help Center" (sic) and try and resolve disputes with the seller but, as in the case of my own claim, if there is non delivery there is not much the seller can do to "resolve" it unless it was an insured package in which case you would not need Paypal's compensation.

The main piece of information needed to process the claim is the "Transaction ID" which comes from your Paypal account history as shown below. The transaction ID is shown in the second column from the right.

The transaction ID is entered on a form to be submitted as part of the process of the claim (see below).

Once the ID has been submitted and "accepted" you get the form below and once you have submitted this then you wait for an agent to contact you.

The first contact is by email and is system generated. It conveys (to me) a tone that implies they will use every opportunity to dismiss the claim if you don't follow the exact procedure.

An example is given below (edited to remove personal details):

Thank you for contacting PayPal. 
We have begun our investigation of the following transaction: 
Complaint Details
Transaction Date: Feb. 14, 2004 
Transaction Amount: -$42.33 USD 
Case Number: PP-033-xxx-xxx 
Seller's Name: xxxxxx xxxx Seller's Email: xxxx@xxxxxxx.xx

Please allow at least 30 days for completion of this investigation.
You will be contacted through email and asked to provide information
relevant to the claim. If this claim involves the authenticity of a
purchase, you may be asked to provide a letter (on official letterhead
stationery) from a 3rd-party qualified dealer to verify your claim. It
is important to reply within the specified timeframe or the claim will
be cancelled automatically without further investigation or possibility
of a refund. If the case is decided in your favour, PayPal Buyer
Protection guarantees fund recovery up to $500.00 USD.

The next communication was a check as to progress as below.

Dear Michael Battersby,

We are currently in the process of investigating your claim:
Case Number: PP-033-XXX-XXX
Transaction Date: Feb. 14, 2004
Transaction Amount: -$42.33 USD
Seller's Email:  XXXXX@XXXXXXX.XX 
Seller's Name: XXXXX XXXX

Please update us on the current status of your claim. If you have
reached an amicable resolution with the seller (meaning the item or
a refund has been received, or you have negotiated a settlement
with the seller),please let us know by replying to this email.
You may also cancel your Buyer Complaint from the Service Center
in your PayPal account. To visit the Service Center, please go to:

Thank you for your patience and cooperation regarding this matter.

PayPal Complaint Resolution

As Paypal had not actually asked me to negotiate a settlement I was a little surprised by the content of this email and replied as below. However, I had a name - "Matthew" which suggested a real person might now be dealing with the claim and I could enter into a dialogue with them rather than having the computer generated tone of the emails. As you will see I tried a weak attempt at humour to see if it elicited a response amid the formal tones of the emails. Maybe he would even call me Mike and I would get a "Dear Mike" in the email rather than a "Dear Michael Battersby":-.

Hello Matthew
The item has not arrived.  I have not negotiated a settlement with the
seller as, as far as I am aware, the seller did nothing wrong and the
item was lost in transit.
The item was a vintage tinplate Ford clockwork car.  I suspect that
being a Ford it broke down en route.  This attempt at humour is to
see if a "real person" is dealing with this matter or it is all

This attempt at communication proved to be a forlorn hope as back came the following reply.

PFrom: ""  
To: mike xxxxx   
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 11:18:17 -0600 
Subject: Re: Re: Your Complaint PP-033-500-454 (Routing Code
C554-L001-Q414-T3525) (KMM46693527V65844L0KM) 
Dear Michael Battersby,
Thanks for contacting PayPal. I appreciate the opportunity to
assist you with your questions.
Thank you for providing this information to us. This information
has been forwarded to our investigations team for further review.
If any additional information is needed, our investigations team
will contact you via email.
Thanks again for contacting us, and thank you for being part of
the PayPal community.
Protection Services Department
PayPal, an eBay Company

This email seemed designed to cover all possibilities. I had not asked any questions and the information provided was at best frivolous. What had happened to Matthew? Alas, no sooner had he appeared than he had been replaced by Nakila. Nakila? I suspect outsourcing to Tibet or a very cold part of Mongolia.

Notice the length of the subject line? I was wondering how long it would be before the subject line got bigger than the email! This is obviously the system by which the computer mechanisms track progress and direct the case to the next stage and presumably was responsible for moving me on from Matthew to Nakila, which I now assume to be two "Mega Giga byte" storage devices of "cases pending".

Not long later though the case was cracked and I got the last email:

Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004 13:13:06 -0800 
Subject: Resolution of Buyer Complaint Case # PP-033-500-454 
Dear Michael Battersby, 
PayPal has concluded our investigation of your Buyer Complaint.
Complaint Details
Transaction Date: Feb. 14, 2004 
Transaction Amount: -$42.33 USD 
Case Number: PP-033-xxx-xxx
Seller's Name: xxxxx xxxx 
Seller's Email:
Our investigation has determined that the seller is at fault, and
as a result we have attempted to recover your funds.  $42.33 USD
has been credited to your account. This is the maximum amount we
were able to recover. Please allow up to 5 days for this adjustment
to be reflected in your account.
We appreciate your business, and regret this experience. 
To make sure future transactions proceed smoothly, we suggest
reading these
Security Tips:
Protection Services Department

So in a little over two weeks I was to get my money back at no cost to myself. .


So what do I conclude about this experience? Well, Marks and Spencer or John Lewis this is NOT. No friendly assistant to sympathise and give your refund. You get cold computerised system emails with the occasional "thank you for being a member of the Paypal community" or "we appreciate your business" thrown in, in the worst style of insincere Americanised "PR-babble".

However, in the end it worked (not the PR-babble, the complaint process) and I did get a refund at no cost (other than a small amount of time) to myself so I have to conclude that the protection system is worth having.

Mike Battersby