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Sunday, February 7, 2010

WAS THIS SELLER ON THE LEVEL? TAKING STEPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF WHEN SOMETHING SEEMS WRONG ...

Today I'm sharing with you a story about what happened to us late last year. It nearly cost us, well cost my daughter, a lot of money. But we want to share it with you here because something we did might just have made all the difference between being scammed and losing our money instead of keeping it. Here's what happened:


November 2009 was a bad month for my daughter. The month opened with her discovery that her debit account at her local bank had been compromised. No sooner was that sorted out, but she took a highly needed short vacation in Las Vegas only to have her Canadian passport stolen in a Casino. She almost wasn't allowed to board the plane home! While she was away, her PayPal account was accidentally frozen and she couldn't pay for online purchases. But the event that made all those seem minor was what we've come to call "The case of the Empty Box" 

It began about 2 weeks before she left for that Vegas holiday. She'd purchased a $1500 ring online and asked that it be sent Express as she was going away shortly. Alarm bells rang a little when she noticed the seller wouldn't take the recommended form of payment i.e. PayPal, but insisted she use a newer company. After checking into the company, she proceeded and paid.

14 days later, the ring still hadn't arrived despite her request it be sent Express (usually arrives in 3 days or less). She contacted the seller. The seller apologized saying she had been sick and sent her boyfriend to the PO with the package. The boyfriend, contrary to her instructions, had shipped the ring just regular USPS, with no insurance or tracking! (My daughter had paid $30 for Express shipping remember?). Panic set in but my daughter's flight was booked. We consoled her saying it'll probably arrive while she was gone and we'd let her know. Have a nice holiday and don't worry...

When she arrived home 2 weeks later, still no package. We assumed the worst. It had been lost or stolen. After all, it was marked with value of $1500 on outside and just sent surface mail. She contacted the seller who claimed to be as sick as she was over this. She hadn't yet been paid by the company so she would ask them that day to issue a refund. PHEW! At least she was honest ...

Then the strangest thing happened: the seller wrote again that same day saying that miraculously the package had shown up back at her place. HUH? Oh, not even quite that: the package had been returned to her neighbor who'd brought it over. WHAT? REALLY? How very odd. The seller asked my daughter what she'd like her to do now. Well my trusting daughter who never wants to think ill of anyone told her to send it on again, but this time make sure it went by Express Post and make sure the seller, not her boyfriend, take it to the Post Office.

Later that day, the seller sent a tracking number and said it was on the way just as promised. She even sent a photo of the outside of the box. We breathed a sigh of relief, pushing away the uneasy thoughts that kept jumping into our minds. Then the seller wrote again to tell us she'd even included a little gift of earrings that she had made to compensate for the problems. We relaxed a little more. We counted the days to the anticipated arrival of the $1500 diamond ring. Some inner voice was talking to my daughter and for a change, she was listening. She asked us to make sure when our postman arrived to have our camera ready while she opened the box with the postman there. It seemed a silly precaution but, well, just in case...

Well, the box arrived, on time. We all, postman too, stood by as my daughter opened the box and my husband took photos. Have you guessed? Yes, the box was empty except for some pink plastic wrap and a flimsy square box with no ring inside. No free gift either. The shock on all our faces was registered by the camera. The postman was floored. My daughter burst into tears. What were we to do now? The company to whom the money had been paid and held for the seller would release the funds when seller could show by tracking number that the item had been successfully delivered. All that had been delivered was an empty box!

My daughter's tears quickly turned to anger. She emailed the seller and contacted the company holding the money. The seller screamed innocence and disbelief. Someone must have opened the box and removed the contents! Really? Well we had photos of a fully sealed box that hadn't even been opened by Canada Customs! She demanded to see the photos taken with the Postman. What kind of story were we now telling her? We were lying! In the meantime, the company holding the money (MoneyBookers) asked to see the photos. We sent them. In less than 48 hours they wrote back and said "Sorry...but there's nothing more we can do. Contact your local police. The package was delivered. Funds will be released to the seller."

We couldn't believe this was happening. My daughter then contacted the site from which the ring was purchased and disclosed all the facts of the case to them. She offered to send the photos. They wrote back saying the seller had been in touch and wanted to see the pictures. My daughter took their advice but in the meantime contacted her credit card company as obviously now her payment to the seller was being processed. With Christmas around the corner, my anguished daughter tried to smile as she decorated the tree and tried to keep her mind off being $1500 poorer.

Is there a happy ending to "THE CASE OF THE EMPTY BOX". Well somewhere, someone was on our side. The seller, after getting the photos we were asked to show her, said we were obviously telling the truth about getting an empty box. She said she'd contact the company and ask that funds be returned to my daughter. She followed through and the funds were returned later that night. We found it odd that she'd come to see our side so quickly. Why? Was she perhaps now worried that with us reporting this to the Credit Card company etc., she just could get herself into hot water?

I guess we'll never know what really happened in this case. Incidentally, the seller did write one last time, moaning about the loss of her $1500 ring and telling us how nice a person she is and how she only wants peace on earth and all that stuff. We wanted to commiserate but somehow we couldn't. We wanted to believe she was being honest about it all but somehow we couldn't. Things just didn't add up:
1) Her "boyfriend" had sent a $1500 in an ordinary package marked $1500 for the cost of stamps when we'd paid for Express, insured mail
 2) The package didn't show up for weeks. After assuming loss and asking for a refund, suddenly the package showed up, back at the sender's home ... oh wait ... not even there! It showed up at a neighbour's on the very day we asked for a refund?
3) The package was sent again, properly this time, fully sealed and obviously never opened, not even by Canada customs ... and it arrived empty??!!
Maybe the seller was telling the truth all along but we have a hard time believing her. Would you?

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