Caught in the Fun House: Paying by PayPal
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
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.
Caught in the Fun House: Paying by PayPal
Very good customer service
When I call I'm met by the electronic auto-attendant whom I short circuit with
"operator please", "real person please," "customer service please." A few moments
later I'm speaking to someone who is able to get right into my account once I provide
various digits from obscure paperwork. It's then I learn that my payment 4 days
earlier did not go through. This seems impossible until we retrace my steps right
down to the specific buttons I pressed. "Ah, that's the problem. You don't want
to say 'this is for a eBay item' because the system will find the relevant
transaction and correct the email address you are using to be identical to the one
in the eBay item." In others, the system wants to take me back to square one. "To
avoid this, as reason for payment, click ‘other.'" I did and a few minutes later the
payment was confirmed. I then emailed Marilyn to check her account and a short
time later she replied:
YOU DID IT...!!! Thank you again. Now you can write a novel about the importance
of proof reading. Once again, I appreciate all you did in getting this resolved.
I'm not sure I would have found another eBayer that would have gone the extra mile
you did. I got lucky!
So there are two morals to this story. Proof read your text, particularly your
email address. The other: if it is a payment issue you probably want to speak to PayPal.