Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2008 Issue

Caught in the Fun House: Paying by PayPal

Bell

Old telephone books are required reading.


By Bruce McKinney

About a month ago I bid for and won a 1913 Middletown, New York phone book. As I have learned, this being the third early Hudson Valley phone book I've bought in eBay auctions, such directories tell an interesting story about the development of an area. Politics, geography and money are all on display. The footprint of history is often in sand. Phone books provide a permanent record of the transitory nature of change and development. On eBay they typically cost less than $75 and often much less.

In any event I was happy to acquire the item and immediately made payment via PayPal. A week or so later I heard from the sellers, Warren and Marilyn, that they had not received payment. I then checked my PayPal account and saw the ominous note PENDING. I didn't immediately understand why it was pending but later noticed in a further email from W & M that their email address was different by ONE letter from the email address specified in their eBay auction. Warren and Marilyn then asked that I cancel the payment and I did. I then incorrectly assumed that during the next three days the seller's email would be corrected or at least the record altered so payment could go through on the next try. Again the payment went to PENDING.

I then contacted PayPal using their dispute resolution software. I could not however find any category of problem that seemed to fit my situation. I could dispute and complain but I didn't see anything that looked helpful such as "Provide help completing Payment to a defective email address." In time I found a way to register a claim and get a one hour telephone opportunity to call PayPal customer service. I did.

The PayPal rep was very helpful especially after I explained, "I'm trying to pay a seller." This is apparently not what they deal with most of the time. The representative looked at my account and saw the second PENDING payment. I had already tried to cancel it and the rep explained I couldn't until my commitment to pay the seller expired. And how long will that take? "About a month." "But will the payment to the defective address ultimately go away?" "Yes." Then, I said, "let's make a direct transfer to them at their correct email address." Then, while I was on the phone, the representative told me what to do. I typed in their correct address and the correct amount and then innocently marked "payment for eBay item." I then submitted and confirmed. Done! As a last step I sent an email to Marilyn to confirm payment.

Three days later I heard from Marilyn that they did not receive payment after all. Well, I knew the email address and amount were correct and so tried to reach eBay customer service again. My access code, issued 4 days earlier, was for one hour and it's 96 hours later. "Houston, you have a problem." Rather than try to remember how I was able to get an PayPal phone access this time I simply Googled PayPal customer service. This brought up an extensive selection of numbers, some provided by unhappy eBayers. Previously I was provided a 408 number. Now I have an 800. This is progress.

Rare Book Monthly

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