Thursday, 22 May 2008

My first taste of internet fraud?

I posted a couple of weeks ago about how I'd ordered a nice, new aluminium DICOTA briefcase for taking my new Dell laptop on holiday around Europe, and to replace my broken work briefcase. The order still hasn't arrived, and I'm beginning to seriously suspect I've been duped out of US$125. I tried phoning the contact phone number provided on the bargain.net.au website again today, but still only got a recorded voice mail. I left a message, but don't really expect to get a response.

I had already emailed their admin department to check on the delivery early last week, and didn't get any reply. Today I checked out the procedure for handling such problems on the Paypal site (since I paid using my Paypal account). I found another customer service phone number for bargain.net.au on the Paypal receipt for this order, so I tried that number. I was actually answered by a human being (an asian lady) who initially agreed that I was talking to bargain.net.au. But after I started outlining my problem with non-delivery of an order she changed tack and said that it was just a residential phone number and that I must have dialled a wrong number (she then quoted a different number from what I'd called). I know that I dialled the correct number (since it was visible on the caller id display), and when I rang back the same number a few minutes later it wasn't being answered - so much for 'customer service'!

Checking out the ABN for the company (provided on the Paypal receipt) and their "seller reputation" on PayPal I found out a couple of interesting facts:
1. They'd only opened their Paypal account in Feb 2008.
2. They had a reputation (number of successful purchases via Paypal) rating of zero! (Wish I'd noticed that before making my payment - D'Oh!)
3. The ASIC website search showed that the private company trading as bargina.net.au (SonicVision Media Pty Lid.) was deregistered in April 2008!

Based on this information I immediately lodged a dispute claim via Paypal. It turns out that you can do this only within 45 days of making a payment. However, the initial claim simply gets an email sent to the seller via Paypal (with the details of your complaint that you've typed in) and Paypal expect you to try to resolve the issue directly with the seller.

If you don't settle the dispute you can escalate it to be reviewed by Paypal. But you have to do it within 10 days, otherwise the claim is automatically closed and you can't reopen it or lodge a new claim for the same order!

When you escalate a claim Paypal will "freeze" the amount of your disputed order in the seller's Paypal account (IF they have enough funds sitting there!). Since I have severe doubts about this merchant and had already had no luck trying to contact them, I decided to escalate the claim an hour after I'd raised it. I'm just hoping that there might be some funds still sitting in their account. If I'd waited a couple of days and the owner (Jeff Lam) became aware of my phone call the 'customer service' number (which I think is his home number) and the initial claim notice from Paypal he might have cleared out any funds sitting in his Paypal account. I really wish that when you escalated a claim on Paypal they displayed the amount that was able to be "frozen" in the merchant account - at least you wouldn't have to wait ten days to find out that PayPal wasn't going to be able to provide a refund.

Anyhow, I now have to wait and see if I get any response from the merchant regarding delivery of my order, or get offered a refund. If bargain.net.au doesn't respond to Paypal's enquiry within 10 days Paypal will automatically decide in my favour. Unfortunately only eBay purchases are subject to the A$3,000 Paypal purchase guarantee. As the purchase wasn't made via eBpay I'll probably only get as much money back off PayPal as was sitting in the merchant's PayPal account when the "freeze" got applied. Perhaps nothing at all.

If I do end up being out-of-pocket the US$125 I think I'll lodge a complaint via NSW Fair Trading (the merchant is located in Sydney), and possible even make a fraud complaint to the police IF it turns out that I've been ripped off. I have the IP address (and hence the whois and host details relating to the bargain.net.au website), so if nothing else I might at least be able to get the plug pulled on the website so that other consumers don't get stung.

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2 comments:

Praveen Puri said...

It's a shame that some people try to scam money in this way.

It hurts legitimate vendors because people might be more reluctant to buy from their site - unless they are well known like Amazon.com.

You are handling the situation well, but there are probably many victims who aren't so internet-savvy, and they just lose their money.

It seems like Paypal should relax those tight deadlines for reporting problems, but I guess (in their defense) the volume of queries might become too unmanageable.

Anonymous said...

Would purchasing via a credit card give you more protection?