It hasn’t been a particularly good few weeks for the customer service industry. Last week it was the saga of Paul Christoforo, the man who would be friends with the mayor of Boston, bro, who decided that civility was for the weak and paid a hefty price when he picked on the wrong guy. Now it is PayPal. Again.
PayPal is one of those services that has so dominated the space it exists in that it has inevitably become a source for users around the world to share, use, and occasionally become victims of. To be fair, there are millions of transaction every month at PayPal that go off swimmingly, with nary a problem. But when problems due arise, they can be whoppers.
Cats > Children
Last month PayPal awoke the Internet on the wrong side of the bed, and then proceeded to face the digital hounds following an incident with Regretsy.com over blocking gifts for needy children. The condensed version is that Regretsy asked people to buy random gifts for a group of handpicked children, then ended up earning more money than necessary. It then decided to use that money to help the families even further and pay some of their bills. All of the transactions were conducted via PayPal, who froze Regretsy’s account before a single gift was sent.
The trouble stemmed from a classification error on Regretsy’s part that could easily have been filed under “honest mistake,” but that apparently wasn’t an option for PayPal’s reps. After a bizarre back and forth with a PayPal customer service rep, it was determined that Regretsy had erred by having the gifts purchased as “donations.”
The gifts were all part of a grab bag, so when a person wanted to help out they essentially just donated $2 in order to contribute to the total rather than choosing an individual gift to send under their name. PayPal, however, saw things differently, and concluded that each $2 transaction was actually a purchase and not a donation. That led the company to freeze the account and demand that Regretsy’s owner and operator, April Winchell, issue a refund for each and every donation, of which PayPal would receive a small transaction fee on each.
Logic would dictate that a quick call to an actual human could verify Winchell’s good intentions, but that was not to be. In a series of increasingly weird conversations, the customer service rep stopped just short of accusing Winchell of fraud, and birthed the bizarre — and very stupid — phrase that became a minor Internet meme, “You can use the donate button to raise money for a sick cat, but not poor people.”
Needless to say, the denizens of the intertubes were not amused, and the story quickly went viral. PayPal magnanimously addressed the situation (after being caught), and promised to help find an amicable resolution, which to their credit they did. But the story doesn’t end there.
Probably not music fans
Yesterday on Regretsy, Erica, a fan of the site, emailed in her own personal problems with PayPal that echoes Winchell’s “oh my god what are they thinking” experience with the financial giant.
Erica was in the process of selling an antique violin that predated World War II, to a buyer in Canada for $2,500. But when the buyer received the violin, they disputed the label on the instrument. Erica asserts that this is a common thing in the world of antique instruments — and a quick Google search can verify that it is indeed commonplace. On top of that, she also confirmed that it was appraised and verified by a legitimate luthier.
The buyer wanted a refund, which Erica was willing to provide, but then PayPal got involved. In order to issue a refund, PayPal demanded that the violin be destroyed, as the company had somehow decided that the instrument was counterfeit–despite any actual investigation into the piece itself.
The buyer then sent Erica a picture (above) of the destroyed instrument. She contacted PayPal, who strongly defended its actions. In the Terms of Service for PayPal, there is a line that reads “PayPal may also require you to destroy the item and provide evidence of its destruction.”
In many ways, this may seem like a justifiable move on PayPal’s part to protect its customers, at least until you start to think about it. First, PayPal is in no way a legitimate source for the authentication of antique violins, especially since the bulk of its interaction was handled by phone and email.
Second, for some reason PayPal immediately seemed to side with the buyer. From an impartial point of view, there is no particular reason to assume the buyer is telling the truth while the seller is not. Perhaps the PayPal reps just trust Canadians.
Third, even if this were a scam there were better ways to handle it, none of which include PayPal anointing itself as the arbiter of a product very few people in the world are experts on. Now, without actually having the shattered violin analyzed by an expert, there is no way to confirm that Erica is telling the truth. But even if she was trying to sell a counterfeit, it was not PayPal’s place to decide that, especially without concrete evidence.
If Erica is telling the truth, thanks to PayPal she is now out a $2,500 violin, and a rare antique has been destroyed. All because of a policy that had no business being cited in this situation.
PayPal has said that it is investigating the matter.