mailbag photo

I just had to use this photo. This letter is not actually from Kermit the Frog.

I’ve sold a couple items on eBay in the past, but I’ve avoided selling there because I don’t sell enough to justify the hassle of learning all the ins and outs. Now I have a high value item (custom, handmade kitchen knife worth maybe $2,000) I’d like to sell, and eBay looks like the best place to try selling it, but I’m concerned about a buyer seeking a refund after I’ve shipped the item. Here are my questions:

1) Can a buyer file some sort of claim that would force me to relinquish the money I earned on the sale, even after I’ve shipped the item?

2) What recourse do I have in that situation?

The short answer is, basically, scammers gonna scam. There is no 100% fool proof way to do any transaction anywhere and eBay is no exception. But there are lots of little things you can do to protect yourself and the more of them you do, the more chance you have of the transaction going well. And, honestly, as many complaints as I have about eBay, they have some of the best seller protections in place.

First of all, insure the item and use a traceable method of shipping. If your buyer claims it was lost in the mail and you can’t prove it arrived, your almost always out of luck. And the insurance will give you the money to refund your buyer if an issue does happen during shipment.

The buyer can file a claim with eBay or PayPal for damage, non-receipt or if the item is not significantly as described. Obviously they can lie or file a claim falsely and it happens. But a claim isn’t just something automatic and a full refund is almost always dependent on the item being returned. If the buyer changes their mind about the item and just wants to return it, there’s a separate returns process that’s pretty simple. You’d just refund the buyer as soon as your item is back in your hands and then you can relist and resell the item so all you’d really be out is the time.

If the buyer does file a claim, PayPal puts a hold on the funds from that sale until the claim is resolved. The claim only moves forward to arbitration if both parties participate. You can talk it out with your buyer and see if they’d be happy with a partial refund or some other lesser resolution or get them to return it. Often time they it never even makes it to arbitration and the hold is off your money as soon as you both agree to close the claim.

If it does move forward to arbitration, an actual human being reviews your case before any money is returned and, for big ticket items, you usually get to present evidence to help your case. So it’s not just some robot who just blindly awards money and, sometimes, just being a rational non-psycho with the facts on your side is all it takes to give your side of the case an edge. Even during this process, you still get the option to accept a return or partial refund as needed.

What all this adds up to is that, while scams can succeed, you’re pretty well protected and, in most cases, if you do have to issue a full refund it’s because you’ve got the item back in your hand to resell anyway. Just make sure that you follow all the rules to be protected such as shipping to the confirmed address, using a traceable method of shipping, etc. and you should be fine.

And if you really and truly are scammed and eBay and PayPal completely fail you? Call them out as publicly as possible (you can even use my blog if you want) because nothing gets results faster than a good old PR crisis. It’s sad that it’s come to this as a customer but there we are.

But, honestly, it shouldn’t need to come to that. The system is in place for a reason and it almost always works as long as you use it correctly.

What other tips would you add, readers?