PayPal strikes again, and this time an antique violin pays the ultimate price

paypal strikes again and this time an antique violin pays the ultimate priceIt 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 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.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

I’ve seen the 8K TV future, and you should be excited. Here’s why

Samsung set the tech world on fire when it announced it would sell an 85-inch 8K TV in the U.S. along with several 8K screen sizes in Europe. Debates over the validity and value of such a high resolution have continued since, and we're here…

These 100 best iPhone apps will turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world, and we want to bring out the best in yours. Behold our comprehensive list of the best iPhone apps, from time-saving productivity tools to fun apps you won’t be able to put down.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Inferiority is a feature now! Palm's new plan is psychotic

The Palm is a smartphone to reduce your smartphone usage, or a small smartphone for when you don't want to carry your big smartphone. Palm itself doesn't seem sure which it is, but either way, it's a product that's so witless, we're amazed…
Home Theater

Budget TVs are finally worth buying, and you can thank Roku

Not all that long ago, budget TVs were only worth looking at if, well, you were on a budget. Thanks to Roku, not only are budget TVs now a viable option for anyone, but they might even be a better buy than more expensive TVs.

Huawei and Leica’s monochrome lens is dead, so we celebrate its life

The Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro do not have a dedicated monochrome camera lens, unlike the P20 Pro, and various Huawei and Leica phones before it. It's the end of an era, and also the start of a new one, as Leica has worked on its…

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.

‘Fallout 76’ is nothing like ‘World of Warcraft,’ and that’s for the best

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…