A Case of Fraud on eBay
How It Was Resolved
in a journey through the
Fraud Protection Program at eBay
with my reflections on the
Economics and Ethics of Commerce on eBay, and in Real Life

I first published this essay in 2003, when eBay was still a relatively new phenomenon, and the novelty and euphoria of individuals implementing commerce online was wearing into more of a routine. EBay has changed much of their strategy, to where the conditions in 2003 seem idyllic in comparison to today. EBay discontinued the "Fraud Protection Program", and replaced it with a weaker "Purchase Protection" scheme. Neither of these provided the genuine protection of the long-established US law of buying and selling, namely the Uniform Commercial Code. Instead we have a system seemingly designed to encourage both buyers and sellers to misbehave, after which buyers initiate disputes and sellers act surprised. The only guaranteed result is a massive waste of time and transportation. Buyer dissatisfaction and seller losses are more likely than ever. I hoped that eBay would advance both fairness and freedom in an online marketplace, but that hope remains unfulfilled.
  -- March, 2018

While eBay is a ongoing flea-market of mammoth proportions and astonishing depth, actual fraudulent dealing is rather rare, and successful resolutions even rarer. I find eBay to be a useful source to buy exotic and surplus technical items for my more unusual projects, but it seems that despite the utmost care, about 1 in 100 transactions something goes quite wrong. This is usually a matter of sellers playing loose with facts, such as over-optimistically stating the amount or quality of something, or casually applying technical specifications without basis. I take this as part of the overhead of doing business on eBay; you have to allow for it and look at the benefits in the long run, not in any specific case.

However, after about 500 transactions, with a few of those bumpy ones, I encountered a more serious case. I purchased a pair of specialized electric motors for $151, which had been offered for sale on eBay as new, yet turned out to be quite used. After a lengthy and quite involved process, I was able to recover most of that expense back from eBay under their Fraud Protection Program. Here is the timeline:

Timeline of Events

My Observations After This Experience

Some Principles and Tips for Dealing on eBay and in Real Life

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Richard J. Kinch
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