Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting Your Money Back

Introduction

By now I hope everyone has heard about Aaron Solomon, dba BushdioMosquito.  If you haven't, here is the review of the custom SAK he made for me.  As the review notes he had to change the order around because things were difficult to make, though in hindsight I am not sure if that was actually the case or if there was something more nefarious going on.

Being ripped off on the Internet is a really crappy thing.  It is crappy because you got ripped off, of course, but it is also crappy because most of the time you are dealing with people you trust.  On EDCF I really do like and trust quite a few folks I have met through there even though I have never seen or talked to them in person.  If they ripped me off, I would feel defrauded AND betrayed.  Fortunately, they never have.  But I have gotten ripped off before and unlike it with Aaron it was someone overseas (Rob Cheetham of Lummi Lights, see here for more).  There was very little I could do to get my money back, but in the end the steps I took worked.

As a courtesy, I now do the following three things in exchanges over the internet: 1) I communicate with the buyer immediately and every day until the item is shipped (which is usually the next day); 2) I always send the buyer a picture of the package that is bundled up and stamped by the post office; and 3) I hold their money until I receive a reply that they got what they paid for.  These steps make it pretty easy to deal with folks and the good old USPS has never lead me astray, though I know it has for some people.   

I want to give you some pointers about how to do this, but there are two caveats.  First, this is not legal advice.  I don't know what your consumer protection laws are like so I can't even pretend to give you advice.  Second, your experience may differ than mine.  A lot of these things are factually dependent.

There are really three ways to go about getting your money back and they vary in effectiveness.  These are last choice options.  The best way is to try and work things out with the original person, but like with Aaron, that seems to not be a possibility for a lot of folks.  So if you have run out of do-it-yourself options, these are things to turn to.  The first choice is the Fraud Department of PayPal/eBay which is the way most of the money is sent over the internet.  The second choice is the Consumer Protection division of the Attorney General's Office.  The third is, of course, the police. Again, this is more of a practical guide than anything else, so it is incumbent on you to read the fine print, read the law, and have a good understanding of the facts.

PayPal Fraud Department

Of all the resources mentioned here only one has a financial stake in the outcome.  PayPal and eBay's Fraud Department is very sophisticated and very effective.  You can find it here.  My experience with them was simply wonderful.  The first step is a mediated effort to solve the dispute.  In my case they froze both mine and Rob's PayPal account.  This both allows them to look at the record, frozen in time, and it operates as a sort of incentive for both parties to settle.  Rob must have done a lot of business through PayPal because he dodged me for a long time over email, but answered me within six hours of the PayPal account freeze.  The freeze didn't really effect me, but it did effect Rob, essentially cutting off his income.  I imagine the bounce back payments sent to his customers during the dispute were also bad for business.  In the end, that was enough.  The dispute was settled and the hold was lifted.

Be careful as there are strict time limits on the time between when the payment is made and when the dispute can be lodged.  Go over the time limit and they will not be able to help you.  Also, save all of your emails to and from the person.  You never know when they might be helpful.  Finally, it is also not a bad idea to save your bank records.

In the end, PayPal's business model requires that people can trust sending payments over the internet, if they can't the business fails.  As such, the Fraud Department is extremely aggressive and according to various sources, including consumer groups, very effective.  They have the most incentive to settle your problem, they have immediate access to a person's funds, and, for an internet business, they can shut off all their income.  Try them first.  This is what they do and they do it very well.  Oh, one other benefit--they work even for folks outside your state or the US.  They have no geographical limitations on who they can go after.  The other two options can only work in the US, and maybe only in your state. 

Consumer Protection Officials

I live in Massachusetts.  We have high taxes, restrictive gun laws, fantastic higher education, excellent schools and the best consumer protection laws in the country.  Our statute, called 93A, puts the fear of God into companies.   Why?  If you lose a claim you pay the other person's attorney fees AND triple their damages.  That is a huge penalty.    

Your law may not be that strong, but all states have some form of consumer protection laws.  Here is a good list of them.   I would start by getting in touch with your state consumer protection officials.  They are usually part of the Attorney General's Office for your state.  They will likely have a set of forms or questions for you.  I have not had to use the Consumer Protection folks before, but they are very, very good as a rule (as are most folks that work for a state Attorney General).  If an email from you doesn't scare the person defrauding you, one from a state AG, with all of the official looking letterhead and seals, etc will.

These people though are tremendously overworked.  They are dealing with Super Fund sites and massive fraud cases so a few hundred dollars, while significant to you, might not be a big deal for them.  Be patient and reasonable and understand that, in the end, they only have so much time.  If they can't help you they might be able to refer you to someone that can.  

The Police    

So far you have some computer folks that hunt fraud, some lawyers that look at fraud, but now you have folks with guns.  Right, you don't screw with the folks with guns.  If you paid for a good or service and didn't receive it, that is likely some kind of theft.  You should check your state laws and see if they are applicable.  If they are, and all of your other resources are tapped out, you might ask the police to look into the matter.  Give them all of the documentation, if they need it and ask for it and be patient.  If the consumer protection folks have bigger fish to fry, then the cops, well they are whale hunting in terms of problems.  They are, without question, the scariest folks for your fraudulent double dealer, but they are also the busiest.

Conclusion/Changing your Luck

I hope this helps.  Its terrible that Aaron seems to have stiffed so many folks.  Not just here, but on the forums as well.  Hopefully he is just terribly behind and will emerge from hiding with a bounty of loot and beautiful SAKs for all those that paid and got nothing. 

Since you had bad luck with Aaron, maybe I can equalize your luck a bit.  I am lucky you read this blog and I am lucky that folks send me stuff to review.  I will share that luck with you.  If you are someone that reads this blog and got stiffed by Aaron send me an email at anthonysculimbrene at comcast dot net.  Two weeks after this post is up, I will choose a person at random from the pile of folks that got stiffed and you will win the MBI CoreTi I reviewed a few weeks ago.  At least you still have some awesome, exotic Ti bling on your keychain, even if it isn't a SAK.  If you cheat in a contest where I am trying to make things a little nicer for folks that got defrauded, well, I think there is a special extra hot and slow elevator ride to hell for you in the future.    

5 comments:

  1. Tony, practical and proficient post! Thank you for going out of your way to highlight best practices for buying and selling online.

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  2. Thanks for bringing this up. Unfortunately I'm past the 45 Day grace period (Sent the con man money in March...) so I won't be getting my deposit back. I'm trying to look at the bright side since that's about all I can do.

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  3. I appreciate this post a lot Tony. I'm not out nearly as much as some, but it still stings in the very ways you describe.

    I don't know if this was Aaron's master plan or what, but intended or not he's become a crook. Even if he manages to make good I'll have nothing more to do with him. I can only hope that this catches up to him one day.

    PS. You've got a wee typo in the spelling of "Bushidomosquito" in the first sentence.

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  4. This is why I'm extremely reluctant to do business with anyone online (not including Amazon, etc). Obviously, not everyone is a con artist, but it happens often enough that I'm perfectly fine going with production models of anything I'd need or want.

    That said, I'm still lusting after anything Mcgizmo...

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  5. Tony- Very good information and a very nice offer, thanks! I would strongly suggest to potential on-line buyers to know the maker/seller before putting down an upfront deposit. Email them, make sure that they answer within a timely fashion (within 48hrs is my rule of thumb give-or-take), check the forums for their reputation and other sites. I personally will no longer pre-pay for an item or lay down an intent to purchase unless it is $25 or less. A maker may require a small amount to show that you are serious (intent) or may require you to pay up-front for specific custom things that you want, say on a knife (such as CTS-HXP blade steel that he/she may not readily have available). It just puts up a RED FLAG to me saying that they do not have funds to re-vover their loss. If they are a well known maker, they normally have a waiting list and could sell the item in minutes if a buyer backs out. More makers need to take some notes from makers such as McGizmo(Haiku light) or Tain(Piccolo light) especially in this economic environment (most (not all) custom knife makers only make you pay once the knife is complete and they send you pics. to confirm)you just never know. This can be reversed to the buyer, stay professional and let these guys do their work, they normally have small shops and will tell you that making their creations takes time, so be reasonable and patient. This is only my opinion as the decision is totally up to the buyer...take care! Again, Tony, really appreciate your insight! ;-)

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