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A series of emails concerning a payment dispute shows that after weeks of warnings and penalties being issued to a buyer without any serious investigation into his complaint, the matter was only resolved within hours of eBay being informed that the Antiques Trade Gazette had become involved in the case.

Despite the partial resolution of the individual case, the matter continues to raise serious questions over how well eBay police their Feedback system and how closely vendors are vetted over methods of payment.

The problems for restorer James Chadburn, an Antiques Trade Gazette reader, started when he bought two camera filters under the Buy It Now section on eBay in March. The vendor, digitaltoyshop.com, who are based in Malaga in Spain, clearly indicated on their advertisement that they accepted payment by PayPal, the eBay-owned escrow service used to provide buyers and sellers with a secure means of completing transactions. Mr Chadburn always uses PayPal when buying on eBay because of the security it provides.

The following day, Mr Chadburn was informed that the payment could not be processed through PayPal, so he cancelled the deal. The cancellation was ignored, so the next day Mr Chadburn contacted digitaltoyshop to ask for their help in paying via PayPal. Almost immediately, he received notice that PayPal had now processed the payment, only to be told a few hours later that the payment had not been picked up by digitaltoyshop.

Cancelling the order once more, he was contacted again two days later by digitaltoyshop, asking for payment and referring to earlier payment advice from them which suggested he pay by credit card.

Another three days went by before PayPal agreed to refund Mr Chadburn, but said that they would hold on to his money until the vendors had repaid them. A day later, eBay informed Mr Chadburn that as he had still not paid, he had ten days to settle the account or risk being issued with a Non-Paying Bidder (NPB) warning. He was told that three such warnings would mean his account being suspended indefinitely.

The next day, March 27, Mr Chadburn emailed digitaltoyshop, complaining that earlier emails were being ignored. He informed them that PayPal said they were not registered to take payment via the service and he noted that despite this they persisted in advertising it as a service they offered. He also noted that although their eBay Feedback was 95 per cent positive, it showed at least one other customer had made the same complaint. He concluded by telling digitaltoyshop that he would be complaining to eBay and PayPal.

Another day went by and Denzel Jones of eBay Global Support emailed Mr Chadburn in reply to his complaint, advising him to contact digitaltoyshop directly to resolve the matter and ignoring all the concerns raised.

The following day digitaltoyshop emailed Mr Chadburn to say they were still waiting for payment and referred him to their earlier advice on how to pay by credit card.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Mr Chadburn did nothing for two weeks. Then, on April 14, eBay issued him with an NPB after complaint of non-payment from digitaltoyshop. Mr Chadburn immediately contacted the Antiques Trade Gazette.

We then spent three weeks checking the details of Mr Chadburn’s complaints before contacting eBay’s UK press and public relations company on May 5 and laying the case before them, asking for comment. Despite acknowledging our approach and the reference details, we have still heard nothing.

However, Mr Chadburn has.

On May 6, he received an email from Chet Ricketts of the Office of the President of eBay asking him to get in touch following a message from PayPal about his eBay account. At 2pm on May 10, Mr Chadburn, by now the recipient of another NPB warning, emailed Mr Ricketts with full details of what had happened over the past six weeks and told him that he had now informed the Antiques Trade Gazette of what had been going on. He also told the Antiques Trade Gazette that, on May 7, he had received a phone call from PayPal saying that they had no control over any adverts or customers using eBay but that digitaltoyshop were definitely not registered with them.

At 8.30pm on May 10, six and a half hours after laying his complaint before Mr Ricketts – and advising of the Antique Trade Gazette’s involvement – Mr Chadburn received a reply, complete with apology, promise to remove the NPBs and assurance that any infringements of eBay policy on the part of the vendor would be dealt with. By then, however, an exasperated Mr Chadburn had closed his eBay account.

Mr Chadburn told Mr Ricketts that he felt the matter would never have been resolved if he had not involved the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Although he had received an apology from eBay, the serious issues raised by Mr Chadburn’s case had still not been resolved.

On May 19 we approached digitaltoyshop directly to ask whether or not they were registered to accept payment by PayPal. Their reply later that day explained that their bank could not accept direct payment via PayPal, but that customers had to use the PayPal debit bar on the PayPal site, a system that then involves them paying by credit card instead.

On May 20, digitaltoyshop were still advertising more than 2000 items for sale on eBay, and still advertising PayPal as a method of payment.

As well as approaching digitaltoyshop on May 19, we also emailed Mr Ricketts at eBay. We explained that after two weeks we still had received no reply to our questions from eBay’s press and PR company. We put the details of Mr Chadburn’s complaint to Mr Ricketts again, explaining that eBay gave the impression of treating “an alleged serious infringement of their rules concerning payment security as though it was merely a dispute between buyer and seller, and refused to become involved”. We also asked him why eBay appeared to be ignoring their own Feedback system while victimising the one person who persisted in trying to do something about the problem, and we told him that PayPal had confirmed to Mr Chadburn that digitaltoyshop were not registered with them.

Antiques Trade Gazette editor Ivan Macquisten concluded the email to Mr Ricketts by explaining that many Antiques Trade Gazette readers “buy and sell on eBay and need to be reassured that the system is policed rigorously. From what I have seen in this case, I feel unable, at this stage, to give them that reassurance”.

Although, by this time, Mr Ricketts had been appraised of the case for more than a week and had promised Mr Chadburn satisfaction within a few hours of first becoming aware of the problem, the Antiques Trade Gazette had still received no reply by the time of going to press eight days after contacting him and more than three weeks after approaching eBay’s UK PR company.


Gazette comment

The issue here is not whether digitaltoyshop are a bona fide business – the vast bulk of their Feedback remains positive and most customers express themselves satisfied – but whether eBay are allowing buyers to be misled because they are not policing their service rigorously enough.

Mr Chadburn and who knows how many others use PayPal because they believe it to be a secure method of payment and because they do not want to hand over their credit card details via the Internet. If a company, who PayPal confirm are not registered with them, are allowed to continue advertising their payment service in this way – even when the problem is flagged up and eBay have acknowledged it – it must raise doubts as to how well this service is policed.

The fact that after all this time the Antiques Trade Gazette have still not heard back from eBay is concerning. Our readers need reassurance about completing transactions on eBay and the quicker we can give them that reassurance the better.