PayPal: if you don't like the violin you bought, smash it and we'll give you your money back

Just when you thought PayPal couldn't get any stupider, well, they get stupider. Erica sold an antique violin to someone who paid $2500 for it over PayPal. The buyer disputed the authenticity of the violin -- which had been authenticated by a top luthier -- and PayPal instructed him that he could have his money back if he destroyed the violin. He did, and sent the photo of the destroyed, one-of-a-kind, precious instrument to the seller and PayPal. PayPal took the $2500 back from Erica, gave it to the violin-smasher, and called it a day.

I am now out a violin that made it through WWII as well as $2500. This is of course, upsetting. But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins and other antiquities that they know nothing about. It is beyond me why PayPal simply didn’t have the violin returned to me.

I spoke on the phone to numerous reps from PayPal who 100% defended their action and gave me the party line.

From the Mailbag (via Consumerist)


  1. Well, that’s insane.

    Now let  me look up everyone on my enemies list and see if they are selling anything using PayPal. Ah hah! My high school gym teacher has a Ming vase up for two grand! Heh heh heh…

  2. Pay pal is not your pal.

    This is really sad.

    EDIT: I suggest that everybody who is outraged as I am about this abuse, close their accounts, and indicate this as the reason. My account is now closed.

    1. Mine was already closed because of the Wikileaks blockade, but if it wasn’t, this would certainly be an even better reason.

      PayPal keeps proving that it’s unreliable as an payment processor.

    2. I am considering closing mine, but would need to switch some things to another online payment form. Is there one that is better and more reliable than paypal?

    3. I’m another one who’s ready to close, but is completely at a loss to find a viable alternative. Does Paypal have a monopoly on this sort of thing? I can’t think of another service like it that people actually use with any sort of regularity.

  3. Wow, my jaw is on the floor. If this happened to one of my instruments that I occasionally sell I’d be heartbroken, and they’re just factory-made guitars. Seriously, this feels worse than if they killed a puppy they didn’t want.

    1. Your species … are you trying to say you’re a corporation?  Trust me, this was very much a corporate rather than human decision.  While humans are involved in corporate decisions, they’re hardly human let alone humane.

      1. actually, the fact that corporations and terrorists directly reflect the decisions and feelings of human beings, therefore making his statement of hating his species (that being human) perfectly logical. Humans suck. Humans are responsible for the all the pain and suffering on this planet. Terrorists are people. and corporations are groups of people. don’t you ever forget that. and don’t you ever give mankind more credit than it deserves. Wer’re all a bunch of pigs as far as anyone is concerned in their own individual ways, and some more than others. And chances are, the further from being a pig you actually think you are, the more like one you are..

  4.  This is the unseen final chapter of The Red Violin, where the instrument’s malicious acts throughout the centuries are stopped after it was ordered destroyed by PayPal. We should be thanking them!

  5. When will people learn to stop using PayPal for anything of value? The company is famous for ripping people off, and has been doing so for as long as it has been in business.

  6. Another reason why cash on the barrelhead is the only way to go. It may cost more, especially if I have to fly to meet the buyer or seller, but it protects me from con artists and the expression on their faces as I roll up that barrel is priceless.

  7. It’s moments like this when a company puts all its cards on the table. Let this be a lesson to anyone foolish enough to think Paypal exists for any reason other than to pay its investors a profit. This is also a perfect example for pie-eyed capitalists who think everything w0uld be hunky dory if we could just let markets be markets. Think of the violin as your career, your body, your soul, your children, etc.

      1. It doesn’t. But it does show they care not the slightest bit about the people who use PayPal, or the legitimacy of the the transactions.

      2. Because they obviously need some way to satisfy their risk management department that they’re not committing outright fraud. If you simply took people’s word over the internet, then you could be just giving people money for any spurious claim.

        That doesn’t make this policy any less stupid, as almost all policies written by lawyers are. 

        This is simply more evidence of the basic level of stupidity and incompetence that plagues the corporate world.

        1. The story as told in Cory’s post does not fully detail PayPal’s policy as I understand it*.

          It is my understanding that the proof of the destruction of counterfeit goods is indeed a prerequisite for PayPal to refund you but what is also required is proof that the goods are in fact counterfeit. If the buyer had his own recognised expert sign a statement that the violin was counterfeit and if this proof was accepted by PayPal then the story changes slightly.

          Of course it still seems a pretty crazy policy with lots of scope for disaster.

          *MrsDoom used to work for PayPal and had to deal with somewhat similar situations.

  8. Is it not pretty likely that this is a sneaky scam? 1. Buy expensive violin and report as counterfeit. 2. … ^h^h^h Smash other, less expensive violin, and “prove” destruction. 3. Profit!  

  9. The violin got sent to the address of the guy whose ass should be beaten in the next minutes.

    I hope I was clear enough.

  10. I don’t have a Paypal account and boy am I glad.  However, I do think the seller should contact a lawyer.  There has to be a cause of action here.  Destroying a product to get your money back is FRAUD and Paypal aided and abetted that fraud.   There should be some recourse.

    1. Exactly.  Sue.  It would be worth it, because you can recover both damages, money for pain and suffering caused by the trauma of the events and damage to your business and reputation as a seller.

      And what Ashbjorn Berge said, above.

  11. Ok, I’m missing something here. What is the logic of destroying the merchandise? Even the flawed logic of it? The buyer is unhappy with the merchandise, so why not return it? What is the point of destroying the item? Somebody help me out here?

    1. One possibility is that in many jurisdictions it is a crime to send counterfeit goods using the postal service, so returning an item you believe to be counterfeit would be illegal.

      Apart from that, IIRC Paypal introduced this policy to subvert a scam which involved the shipping of mis-labelled low-ish cost items like flash memory cards: the sellers would give out a fake address in China for returns, and those who didn’t simply give up because of the shipping costs would be left unable to return he goods within the time allowed by the dispute resolution process.

      Obviously, the policy could do with some refinement.

      1. Why think that it’s illegal to send something through the mail that’s counterfeit? More importantly, what’s the difference between a replica and a counterfeit? It seems that what makes something counterfeit is the intent to deceive. The person returning the violin isn’t trying to deceive anyone. I don’t find this rationale convincing. As for the China scam explanation, it seems like that problem could be dealt with in many other ways, ways that invite far fewer problems.

        Also, the women claims to be out $2,500 and a violin. That’s wrong. She’s only out a violin. 

        1. She was out a violin as soon as she sold it.  But that was presumably OK with her, because she got $2,500 in exchange.  Then Paypal took away the $2,500, without giving the violin back.  So she was out the money and the instrument.

          But regardless of what happens with the money, the world is now out an antique violin.

          1. She wasn’t ‘out’ a violin when she sold it; she freely exchanged it for mutual benefit for $2,500.

            What is the difference between her assets before and after her exchange? Exactly one violin. You’re double counting her loss when you say (and she says) that she’s lost both a violin and $2,500. Her possession of the money was contingent on her forfeiting the violin.

          2. @boingboing-89b3395922cd86bbce34b235267b2f31:disqus  It’s not a double count. If the item is worth 2500 dollars, she trades it to someone they keep the violin AND the money. She is out the value of the violin from the transaction AND the violin. Not rocket science.

          3. Carte, if the buyer had kept the violin (destroyed or not) WITHOUT Paypal taking the $2500 back from the seller, then everything would be even-steven for the seller. She would have the $2500 and not the violin, which is the point of her selling it. If the seller were to receive the violin back AND $2500, she would be better off than before the sale took place. It’s not rocket science.

          4. Does she have the violin? 
            Does she have the money?

            Neither of THE TWO. 
            She is out of both.

            It’s not science at all, just common sense.

          5. Semantics 

            What she meant, as anyone can see, “I’m out  a violin that I can resell”.  But she did bundle the cash and violin together in one sentence, no big deal, it still translates that she’s now without her item. 

            The real discussion should be ownership, and whether her rights have been violated. Once the buyer complained about the authenticity of the violin, he no longer wanted it, this translates into him not owning it, the sales process is not complete. He actually took ownership of it once he destroyed it. 

          6. I am replying here because I was confused for a moment, until I remembered basic economics. 
            Listen internet-likers.

            The BUYER gave the SELLER $2500. 

            The SELLER in return gave the BUYER a violin.

            She is technically out of either “the violin that she sold” OR “$2500” (the price she sold it at). 

            NEVER, would she have BOTH the violin and $2500.
            But, as someone else said. I’m quite sure it was just a mistake in semantics when the Seller said this.
            Some of you arguers on the otherhand…  

      2. Paypay may have incomplete policies that don’t accommodate all transactions but it’s criminal that they also hire people to enforce these policies like robots with no sense. What kind of customer service cretin would tell you to smash a potentially precious violin as easily as a mass produced gadget or fashion accessory? 

    2. Imagine that the merchandise actually is counterfeit. The sale of counterfeit merchandise is a form of fraud.  By returning the item to the seller, the seller can just try to sell it again. If the second sale also uses PayPal, then it is conceivable that PayPal could be considered to be knowingly participating in the fraudulent transaction and could be held criminally responsible.  By having the buyer destroy the item, PayPal protects themselves legally. The seller can still sue, but that’s a civil matter, and anyway it wasn’t PayPal that actually destroyed the item, it was the buyer, so the courts would probably not hold PayPal responsible for the destruction of the item.  That’s my guess as to the motive.

  12. this is surreal. I mean – destroy what you bought to get money back? This doesn’t work in real life!? Is this kind of parallel universe of idiots? That is so stupid and sad – and I wish there is a better, widespread alternative for paypal. wait … things that have to do with money turns everyone into an asshole… :-(

    1. Actually it happens in real life every day.  It’s called the bookstore.  When a bookstore can’t sell its inventory, it tears the covers off the books, ships those back to the publisher as “proof”, and demands refunds.  This is called “returnables.”

      Any wonder why indie bookstores are going out of business?

      1. Why not send them back intact? That way the publisher can still sell them elsewhere. Now it’s just destruction of the publisher’s property.

      2. they only do this with magazines and mass market paperbacks. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks (the nice ones) are still returned whole. Or resold.

        1. That isn’t true. The big box bookstores like B&N throw them in the dumpster. I have been a witness to it.

  13. Is this because she left the money in her PayPal account rather than transferring it out and taking the withdrawal hit?  I can’t imagine PayPal has a lot of power if there’s no money in the actual PayPal account.  PP could make an unauthorized withdrawal from your bank account/credit card, but you could at least fight that via the non-PayPal entity.

    A friend started up a business with PayPal as the main method of payment and I advised him to keep his PayPal balance at $0 for this reason.  Peace of mind is worth the relatively small fee.

    By this point, PayPal’s practices should be common knowledge to anyone capable of using the service.

    1. PayPal absolutely can pull the money out of your bank account to make a refund, and the terms and conditions you agree to as part of opening account specifically give them the permission to do it.  The only way to revoke that permission is to close your PayPal account.

        1. It wouldn’t be Visa because they would pull it out of your linked bank account.  Your bank has dispute mechanisms, but since any PayPal account holder agreed to allow PayPal to make the decisions on refunds / etc, it would be a tough uphill battle to get the bank to side with you.

          1. Ok, set aside the bank for a moment.  I don’t use my bank account with PayPal.  It is an option for people, however, so I brought it up.

            My experience with Visa for any problems is that they give me my money back no questions asked.

          2. Not the case. With Chase I merely told them Paypal was taking all my money (the account was compromised) and they refunded it all.

            Conversely paypal told me they first needed to have the money before they could stop taking it (it was up to demanding 5G from me by the time I went to the bank).
            So yeah, I’d just tell the bank Paypal was after you if they actually are.

        2. Yes, if you only have a credit card in your pay pal account, paypal would have to charge back the credit card which would allow you to use the credit cards dispute resolution (which is much less arbitrary and more cardholder friendly.  That is why I only have a credit card linked to my pay pal.  But I think most merchant services require a linked bank account.

      1. Suppose you have two bank accounts, but only one of them is linked to Paypal. If you keep the Paypal linked account empty except when you need to send money through Paypal is there really anything they can do to fuck you over? As long as your Paypal linked bank account has overdraft protection disabled I don’t see how Paypal can steal your money unless your bank is willing to fuck you for them.

        1. That makes sense, but banking doesn’t make sense.  I’ll never understand why transfers are initiated by the receiving party, but it seems if you are on the good side of a bank you can just say “transfer me money from  that other guy’s account into mine please” and they say “Yes, Sir!”

  14. I’m not generally litigious but I really hope this person sues PayPal for the value of the violin + damages. This is completely insane.

    1. Consider the following scenario:

      Buyer: “Dear Paypal, I purchased a violin and paid for it using your service. After receiving it, I had it evaluated and my luthier declared it a counterfeit. What are my options?”

      Paypal:  “You must send us proof that you have destroyed the item, whereupon we will refund your payment.”

      Buyer: “Really? Wouldn’t it be better if I sent the item back?”

      Paypal: “No, it’s in our terms of use that you must destroy counterfeit items before receiving a refund.”

      Buyer: “Wow, that seems harsh, are you sure there’s no other way of resolving this?”

      Paypal: “No, if you wish to receive a refund, you must send us proof of the item’s destruction.”

      Buyer: “Ummm, okay…”

      1. Totally agree here. As annoying as this whole thing is, I can see how this could be tough to resolve, especially if the seller  was not willing to buy back the item. We don’t know all the facts here, but if the buyer really thought there was no way to get their money back without destroying the item I could see how they’d just do it rather than be out $2500. 

      2. There are no counterfeit antique violins, such thing doesn’t exist. 
        There are mislabeled antique violins, in fact so many, they are the norm. 

  15. I’m hoping that some devil’s advocate will explain how this policy could possibly make sense, or some massive bunch of details that were left out of this account. Please? Someone?

    1. I’ll give it a shot…

      I suspect that the “destroy the item” requirement is to prevent unscrupulous buyers from claiming that legitimate items are counterfeit in order to receive a fraudulent refund. If there’s no incentive for a buyer, false claims will be minimized.

      Why not just require it to be shipped back? Because this removes most of the risk for counterfeiters. (i.e. If they’re caught, they give the money back and have their item returned.)

      1. I would think the ideal way to discourage counterfeiters would be for buyers to alert actual police. That would create a much bigger disincentive for counterfeiters than Paypal policies could, and presumably still recover money for the buyer. I assume Paypal acts like police (usurps the role of police) in this kind of case because justice is way too slow, and buyers might have to wait months or years to recover their money, if it wasn’t already spent.

        1. Ideally? Yes, the police would be the best way. Practically? No, they’re far from ideal.

          Even for an item valued at $2500, there’s little expectation that the police will do much for you beyond giving you a case number in order to file an insurance claim. (And for items worth less than $100, I suspect police will be hesitant/annoyed to do even that.)

          Add in the fact that most of these transactions will involve the postal system and multiple jurisdictions and I think you’ll find that the police will be of very little help at all.

      2. I strongly suspect the policy relates to illegitimate *copies* of items (e.g. pirated software CDs).  I can’t see why this would ever be invoked for a physical item, unless the vendor refused to allow the buyer to return the item.  Someone at PayPal fucked up, big time.

  16. How the fuck is this legal?

    There is a ‘contract’ between buyer and seller. In what other world does destroying the goods suddenly make the seller responsible for refunding their money? Try that shit at any return dept. and see where it gets you.

    I don’t see how this is legal. I think I am going to buy a house, sell it to my wife for twice what I paid via paypal, have her dispute the purchase, and then tear the house down. Detroit is a literal gold mine at this point!

    1. But in your house scenario, PayPal would just take the money back from you in order to refund it to your wife .. so you wouldn’t make any money at all.

  17. The buyer is the one in the wrong here. Why is Paypal even acting like a small claims court? Why didn’t the buyer go directly to the seller to complain?

    1. Why is Paypal even acting like a small claims court?

      PayPal is an escrow company. They exist to hold on to the buyer’s money until the buyer assents to releasing it to the seller. I don’t think that people realize that it’s not the same as a Western Union moneygram.

  18. I don’t know why PayPal doesn’t just go ahead and start arbitrarily emptying out everyone’s linked checking accounts.  That seems like the next logical step in their business model.

  19. @Steve Dennis: Probably because, although it is not explicitly stated in the article, PayPal almost certainly kept all of the transfer fees on both ends of the transaction.  Not to mention eBay (PayPal’s parent company) profits when items are sold on their site. And for some reason people continue to use both PayPal and eBay even though shit like this keeps happening on a daily basis.

  20. Paypal’s action makes perfect sense, in the context of our current form of government, where human art and culture is explicitly subservient to corporate greed.

  21. Recently, we shipped a large order to a customer in Austria who paid via PayPal. He apparently missed the various warnings that indicated that, since he was importing items from another country, he was going to have to pay a brokerage fee as well as any duties and taxes assessed by his government. This isn’t surprising to anyone who has bought items overseas before. He refused to pay the duties and refused delivery, so FedEx returned the package to us (at significant cost).

    But then he claimed “Item Not Received” via PayPal, and PayPal refunded him the ENTIRE payment. I pointed out that it’s unacceptable to claim “I didn’t want it” after the item moves halfway across the world and then not have to pay at least the original shipping charge. PayPal’s response? If a customer claims “item not received” and the item is returned to the merchant, they always side with the buyer–no exceptions.

    I guess it’s easy for PayPal. It’s not their money.

      1. Actually, anytime I’ve done a refund on PayPal they pay part of it. So they are losing $$$ too.

  22. i wonder if the smashed violin image could be a fake standin for the real violin? all they would have to do is simulate the identifying markers on the inside of the body.. a little antique patina some yellow lacquer and a bit of dust.. idk. If it were me I would claim that the smashed image was not the violin I had sold.

  23. Okay, I’ll just buy News Corp. via PayPal.

    Don’t like it. I’ll smash it into tiny pieces, send a picture back to PayPal and get my money back.

    What could possibly go wrong!

  24. here’s what i just did:

    I have closed my account as I am appalled and offended by this story: – What a mind fuckingly stupid and senseless policy – I will never use your service again and I will tell all my friends, neighbors, coworkers and people at the bus stop about how a self destructive humanity hating nihilistic bunch of thugs set policy at Paypal.


    Chris Abramczyk
    Bend, Oregon

    1. All,

      Just closed my account. If you have problems contacting paypal to close the account – as closing online may not be possible if you have a non US account, please refer to the contact information here:

      I used the first toll free number in the list: 888-215-5506. They gave me the European paypal contact center number +353 14 36 91 111. After sitting on hold for 15 minutes, I was able to close my account and referenced this incident as the reason.

      I had my own reasons for closing paypal this gave me the final push to make the call.

      Lets send them a message by leaving them.

  25. I quit using paypal 8 years ago bc of their douchebag business practices.  It’s been well know for years that paypal is run by a bunch of money grubbing assholes.  Stop using them.  Haven’t you enough evidence that they don’t give a crap about you?  Vote with your wallet.

  26. So where’s the back story here?  Did she offer him a refund and to pay shipping back?

    Yeah the outcome is insane, but I want to know how it got this far.  My wife has had trouble with sellers not sending her what she bought and a few have been down right rude and flippant about it.  At least with paypal she was able to get her money back.

  27. I avoid PayPal as much as possible, but the problem is, that’s not very much.  It’s almost impossible to buy on eBay without it, and eBay is simply the only real source for a lot of the stuff that I use in my hobbies.  I’d use Dwolla there if I could but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone that takes anything but PayPal recently.

  28. I tried to fact check that story .. and all i found so far was that it is true … I have been unhappy with paypal for a while, but as someone pointed out, it is a must to use them if you want to use i.e. ebay.

    But I just closed my account

  29. I closed all three of my PayPal accounts, two personal ones linked to accounts in different countries and my business account, a few months ago. I have not missed them.

    The reason I closed them was that I was ripped off paying a fraudulent vendor for a software license. The phone drone told me that PayPal will not consider a claim for anything but tangible goods, and that PayPal is not intended for paying for services or non-tangible goods. 

    oDesk, PayLoadz and the excellent BandCamp all accept PayPal for the sale of non-tangible goods. Use it at your peril I suppose. At least there is nothing to smash up.

  30. F-R-A-U-D.
    I’m not sure I believe this story. If I deliberately damage my vehicle and claim it was an accident, it’s fraud. If I burn my house down and claim insurance. Fraud. If I buy a pair of shoes, wear them and then try to return them the retailer has no legal obligation to accept the return.
    If it is in fact a true story and she has documented proof that Paypal representatives instructed the customer to destroy the merch before returning it, it would be a good idea to contact a lawyer I would think.

    1. Not a sound argument, your examples pertains to insurance fraud, it’s obvious she didn’t receive any insurance money, it wasn’t damaged in transit. 

      Re-think, Edit. 

    2. Not just a lawyer, but also the police. In most countries, fraud is very illegal. Many countries have a special law enforcement organization to deal just with fraud. Contact them.

  31. I hate to be the odd man out here – but what evidence is there that the original claim is legit?

    The sum total of what I’ve seen is that someone claims to have sold the violin, had it destroyed by the buyer at Paypal’s request… and that’s it.  No copies of the original professional evaluation.  No copies of the email exchanges.  Nada.

    I dislike Paypal as much as the next guy, but people seem to be jumping on this story based on nothing but a vague email.

    Is there any additional information out there that’s not just a re-hash of the Regretsy post?

    1. Haven’t looked into it because I don’t care enough, but it will shake out eventually. Naturally one shouldn’t take such internet stories at face value.

      But I doubt anyone would make up this story out of whole cloth just to discredit PayPal. They’d just say it never happened and come out looking better.

      What’s more plausible is that the original violin was dodgy. Say you grant that. Is it the best general policy to say that if you have doubts as to the value of the product you receive, you simply provide some evidence that you destroyed it, and your money is taken back from the vendor with no recourse or verification, or even notification given to the vendor?

      Intuitively it’s unfair. You can see the potential for abuse straight away. If you’re going to take responsibility for mediating these transactions you should take some responsibility for mediating disputes fairly.

      1. The problem with doubting that someone would make up a story is that people make up stories about even more outlandish things every moment of the day.  The only thing that this story has going for it is a certain amount of uniqueness.

        Presumably the original author of the letter to Regretsy is aware of the way the story has exploded – it’s fricking *everywhere*.  As such, it seems bizarre that we’re here a day later without any sort of follow-up with supporting evidence – there have certainly been some calls for it besides myself.

        1. In that case, PayPal will come out with a statement in the next 24 hours saying “that is not our policy and this never happened”, and the case will be closed.

        2. @boingboing-4fceec4318ea47d3828f6488c5fa12d8:disqus  boingboing welcomes links, it’s easy.

          It’s not TOS, it’s under Paypal’s User Agreement, 10.1 b paragraph 2:

          If a buyer files a Significantly Not as Described (SNAD) Claim for an item they purchased from you, you will generally be required to accept the item back and refund the buyer the full purchase price plus original shipping costs. You will not receive a refund on your PayPal fees. Further, if you lose a SNAD Claim because we, in our sole discretion, reasonably believe the item you sold is counterfeit, you will be required to provide a full refund to the buyer and you will not receive the item back (it will be destroyed). PayPal Seller protection will not cover your liability.

      2. But that’s not entirely how the Paypal dispute system works.  As the buyer if I felt I had received misrepresented goods (and assuming I couldn’t make any progress with the seller) and filed a dispute Ebay/Paypal would contact the seller first.  If the seller refuses to do anything then Ebay/Paypal becomes the arbitrator….

        It’s only unfair because someone is abusing the system.  If she was concerned about her customer being happy with said violin she should have offered a refund and to pay for shipping back.  (I don’t know the real reason the violin was destroyed.  Like others have said if it was due to illegal shipping then I don’t know how you get around that…other than drive and pick it up.)

        The overall point here – a whole lot of this story is missing, and everyone is just fitting in pieces as they see fit.

  32. The policy is obviously stupid, but another human being decided to SMASH the thing instead of taking it to another luthier and then sending back paperwork to the seller… it doesn’t add up. Seems like the person splurged, then panicked when they realized they bought an antique and it wasn’t the one they were looking for… but to actually go through with smashing the thing… that’s some dark bullshit.

    I hope the anonymous buyer somehow finds this article and realizes they need professional help. Then again they could just be a weaselly dick.

  33. WOW, I really hope this story isn’t for real.  Weirdly, the one time I had a problem with an eBay seller who sent a damaged item, Paypal refunded it without requiring me to return or destroy the item.  It had no collectible value anymore, but it wasn’t valueless.

  34. I sold a mobile phone to a scammer on ebay and they put a dispute in saying that the phone was faulty, i could prove that it wasnt….so when i asked them to send the phone back and i would get one of my engineers to diagnose any tampering of the device they refused to send the phone back stating that ” the phone has been fixed by one of their engineers and has been sent abroad for resale ” even though i had drawn the money from my paypal account they still took the money out and put me in negative credit of the value of the phone and seized my account until it was payed in full, it took me about 4 months to get my money back. Paypal are the biggest scammers out there, they keep hold of your money for as long as possible so it sits in their bank making money

    1. Yes they do try to keep your money as long as possible but your story illustrates that it isn’t a simple process to get as far as this violin situation did. There’s a lot of backstory that this person is leaving out.

    2. Great example. Maybe a new policy, no item in dispute may be repaired by the receiver if a claim has been filed, the choice is up to the seller. 

  35. Is there an offense along the lines of “conspiracy to commit criminal vandalism”, and can corporate persons be charged with it?

    1. i would have thought that taking a company like pay-pal to court would be a very long winded and expensive procedure which would end up in their favour at your cost

    1. That’s the one thing that makes me doubt the seller.  If she believed she had the genuine article, she could have received much more than $2,500.  Regardless though, Paypal’s instructions to destroy the thing are insane.

      1. These are not trendy brandname handbags. 
        It is normal for violins to be mislabeled, the seller likely sold a violin “labeled Maurice Bourguignon”. 
        Which, according to the picture of the destroyed antique artisan instrument, the buyer got. 
        Some of the worlds best instruments are mislabeled.  It is meaningless. 

        1. Of course it’s not meaningless.  If it were meaningless, you could just toss all violins ever made into a pile, pick one at random, and you’d get the same results from the thing.  If the label were meaningless then she shouldn’t have mentioned the label in her ad because, well, it’s meaningless.  If the label were meaningless then a “Tatung” would sell for the same as the “Maurice Bourguignon”.  If the label were meaningless then there would be no need for the label to be authenticated by a luthier….

          1. But as Ipo pointed out, if the seller sold a violin “labeled Maurice Bourguignon,” then the buyer got exactly what they purchased – a violin with a particular label.  The only issue would be if the seller sold the violin and said definitively that it *was* a Maurice Bourguignon. At the same time, the seller has documentation verifying the claim – unless the buyer also has documentation, the determination should not have automatically been that the violin is a fraud.

          2. It depends on the age of  the label and the story behind it. Even the parts can go for thousands. The glue holding the label can be aged. When the label is torn off, then there is an obvious spot where there once was a label, making the item of less value. 

            Research Tiffany and Co. Many of their items were labeled and stamped after the fact, the items were unmarked, a lot are. 

            The labeling of a violin may be an honest after-the-fact determination of the violins maker. Some violins sound much, much better with age and use. So it may not have had any value in the beginning, and the maker received no credit until 100 years later.  It’s called ‘A diamond in the rough” and an attempt at identifying the provenance of the diamond.  

      2. Um, it’s not implausible that this violin was priced properly, based on its condition, age, and production date. Not all DaVinci’s are expensive. 

  36. Her story sounds fishy to me.

    If she already knew that the violin’s authenticity could be disputed, why didn’t she first take the violin to a certified appraiser rather than a luthier? A certified appraiser could have given her a legally-binding certificate of authenticity, which would be a huge help in situations exactly like this one.

    As it stands, all I see is hearsay. Either one of them could be trying to swindle the other; she could be trying to screw the guy out of $2500, he could be trying to get an expensive antique for free. After all, who’s to say the smashed violin in the photo wasn’t some worthless prop?

    Let this example be a lesson to the rest of you to protect yourselves when dealing in valuable wares like this. Do your homework before you put your items on the market. Protect yourself.

    (edit: It just occurred to me how parental I seem in that last paragraph.)

    1. I do agree with this. But more importantly if you are selling or buying art and antiques it is probably best not to go it alone on ebay and paypal. There are disputes all the time regarding authenticity of antiques, and it does not mean that it is a counterfeit in the same sense that a PVC LV purse from China is one. It’s best to have things appraised.

      1. Always best to have things appraised, yes. Besides that, appraisers can sometimes connect you with potential buyers, thus saving everybody from having to go online.

    2. She states that she did… “which had been authenticated by a top luthier.” In which case, I hope she kept a copy of the documentation.

      In the field, they seem to sell the instruments as “labeled such and such” and the certification is that the materials and craftsmanship support the provenance of the label.

      (edit – I see you said rather than a luthier.)

      1. The luthier’s certification is only as good as his or her credentials. That’s really what it comes down to. If I was thinking of selling a vintage violin, I’d first look for somebody with the words “certified appraiser” on their card. Always CYA.

        1. The luthier’s certification is only as good as his or her credentials. That’s really what it comes down to. If I was thinking of selling a vintage violin, I’d first look for somebody with the words “certified appraiser” on their card. Always CYA.

          That awards some magical powers to appraisers that they don’t have. An appraiser might be better at coming up with a cash value, but an expert on stringed instruments should be better able to detect a fake.

  37. ive just had a look online and its made the papers in the UK, so i would say that there is a more than 50% chance that its true, but knowing people and the way that they defraud and exploit systems like paypal and ebay….the violin was probably fake aswell …

    1. It’s made the UK tabloids, which isn’t quite the same thing.

      Until someone adds something which wasn’t already in the Regretsy post, or at least someone who has been known to fact check when the mood takes them , you shouldn’t give the story any more credence simply because it’s been repeated.

  38. This violin story is heart breaking if it’s really true as presented. I use Pay Pal a lot as a buyer and a seller and I’ve churned hundreds of transactions through it since it became an option on eBay.  I’ve been on the wrong side of disputes with them for years and have some things to be resentful about.  But I still use them because there’s no other reliable way for me to get paid and have dispute mediation with people on the other side of the planet.  I’ve found their dispute mediation to be generally very fair to both parties and to come up with a rational resolution.  I don’t want musical instruments destroyed any more than the next guy but realistically Pay Pal makes a profitable business possible for me that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

  39. I just closed my PayPal and eBay. Haven’t used them in years. No point in keeping them open. Also helps to make a point to their customer service people that this type of thing will not be stood for. Having worked in customer service for a long time, I’ve never seen anything this bad.

  40. Seems like maybe we should start vandalizing paypal’s advertisements and work to sabotage their model of business by corporate greed.

  41. I hope the seller sues PayPal and gets the entire company as a settlement and then tells them all “YOU’RE FIRED!”

  42. OK, devil’s advocate here, since people are asking for an explanation: my best speculation based on the evidence presented about this case, PayPal, and the economic theories of capitalist strategy (I am an engineer, by the way; I am not a lawyer, economist, accountant, public relations professional, etc.):

    PayPal is most likely, as is the “prudent” thing for any profit-driven corporate person, looking for the easiest thing to do to first keep their existing profit (transaction fees on the sale), second keep their liability down (avoid going to and possibly losing in court, and avoid bad PR in the newspapers, ultimately both about profit), and last keep enough people from getting upset enough to threaten PayPal’s future profit. They may have actually been able to double their transaction fee on this one since the money moved twice but I suspect they’ll figure out that they miscalculated their priorities in this case, if all those who have been upset follow through.

    So, specifically in this case (or any case of a claimed fraudulent item sold):
    Buyer decides item is fraudulent and PayPal decides to agree and refund the purchase because it’s the easiest thing to do while favoring the buyer, as payment services seem to do; if refunding gives PayPal another transaction fee, they’ll favor the buyer and refund as often as they can—just below the threshold where enough sellers are upset enough to leave and reduce PayPal’s profit.Assuming the item is fraudulent, we wouldn’t want the item sold again and defrauding someone else, so it’s not going to be returned to the seller; maybe the buyer shouldn’t have it either, either because it’s fraudulent or in some twisted concession to the seller/refund (since evidence of fraud isn’t very high at this point). Maybe it should be submitted as evidence to the police, but the easiest thing to do is to avoid the legal system and simply destroy it—harder for the police to get involved without evidence, right?
    And this is all in their terms of service. The buyer and seller both supposedly agreed to it when they signed up with PayPal, so getting something legitimate to sue PayPal for might be difficult, but I would definitely recommend the seller consult a lawyer about this. PayPal designed their dispute system to be the easiest way for them to maintain profit, and were able to do this because of that one-sided “contract” that capitalist/corporate leverage affords them against disorganized individual customers.

    But if my none too flattering hypothesis, stated above, is incorrect, it would be great to hear a better explanation from someone at PayPal. Otherwise: That really was a rather gauche way of handling things, PayPal, poor form; the bad PR is certainly deserved and I hope that it leads to reduced profit and, if somehow they are not the legal Eisensteins I present them as, a bad loss in court.

  43. I had money refunded to a buyer after they said they did not get an item. Paypal requested me submit the tracking code I was given. Being as the buyer did not request it I did not buy it on my own. I did have a receipt for mailing it. That wasn’t good enough. The money was refunded to the buyer in full. I was out the item AND the paypal fees.

    1. But how is that any different than if I send something in the mail and it gets lost?  I’m out the shipping cost and the price I had to pay to buy it again.

    2. I’ve had similar disputes where Paypal has seemingly *automatically* sided with the buyer, regardless of all the info supplied.  I have to use them for work, but I hate this company.  They have ties to a bunch of libertarian idiots as well, most famously the jag who wants to build an offshore libertarian utopia….  ungh.

  44. As a buyer and a seller I’ve noticed that Pay Pal does give the buyer the benefit of the doubt.  The burden of proof is on the seller.  This has often been to my benefit in disputes over misrepresentation, missing items and shipping damage.

    1. if this story is accurate, the burden of proof was not requested from the seller. 

      (edited to get that not backwards)

    2. As a buyer and a seller I’ve noticed that Pay Pal does give the buyer the benefit of the doubt.

      US business tends to run on the principle of ‘seller beware’. For instance, I bought a used book from an Amazon Marketplace seller. I didn’t get the book, and it was patently obvious that UPS had left it sitting in the public parking lot of my complex. Amazon refunded me, took the $0.99 plus shipping from the seller and told me that how UPS works isn’t their business.

  45. Okay, this is obviously an insane clause they have in their TOS to destroy the item, and I hate using PayPal & eBay, but they seem to have a lot of people by the balls because it’s their only form of income.

    That said, why didn’t the seller allow the buyer to just return it for a full refund?

    Seller gets item back, buyer gets money back, seller just resells on eBay.

    I wish eBay didn’t run a monopoly on its payment practices.  Both of those companies are dicks.

    1. Well, a couple of things.  As noted above in some cases it’s illegal to ship counterfeit items, so the buyer may not have been legally able to return it, which is the preferable course.  I don’t know if this applies in this case.  I’ve been told to keep aerosol products when I received them by mistake because I’m not licensed to ship aerosols.
      EBay doesn’t technically run a monopoly on payment processing.  You can use other payment processors than Pay Pal as long as they meet standards such as the payment being revocable in the case of a dispute.  So a seller isn’t locked into Pay Pal with eBay.  But they’re the 600 lb gorilla and all of their competitors are mice.
      I’ve been selling on eBay since ’97 and things have definitely improved for me as a buyer and seller with Pay Pal.  But this violin story, if true, is a tragedy.

      1. They’re competition is *giggle* Paymate, Moneybookers (which is now Skrill?) and Propay.  Those companies are seriously laughable since they’re all partners of eBay and surely pay fees to be apart of their massive money flow.  I too have been selling for many years on eBay, and it’s definitely a great place to buy and sell.  You just can’t beat the visibility that’s gained from such a large product search.

        If you read the full article you can see that the “counterfeit” item is debatable.  How would PayPal know that it’s a fake and give permission to the buyer to destroy it?

        I didn’t realize they had master luthiers working at the PayPal offices.

        Nonetheless, I suspect that there are three sides to this story.

    2. You must to have read the Paypal User Agreement in full: 

      If a buyer files a Significantly Not as Described (SNAD) Claim for an item they purchased from you, you will generally be required to accept the item back and refund the buyer the full purchase price plus original shipping costs. You will not receive a refund on your PayPal fees. Further, if you lose a SNAD Claim because we, in our sole discretion, reasonably believe the item you sold is counterfeit, you will be required to provide a full refund to the buyer and you will not receive the item back (it will be destroyed). PayPal Seller protection will not cover your liability. 

      It was out of the sellers hands.

  46. I do sympathize with the seller; that pile of splinters is heartbreaking, and she seems sincere in her desire to get the violin back. However, I highly doubt that that violin was worth anything close to $2500. A real instrument by that maker should be worth much more – the fact that it was for sale online at that price should ring a lot of alarm bells.

    People assume that old violins are inherently valuable, but the truth is there are gazillions of instruments out there from the first-half of the 20th century or so that are not worth much at all.

  47. Lawsuit for illegal conversion?

    Isn’t it amazing what can be not only authorized but made to sound like a good idea once you become corporate enough?

  48. Here’s why I still love eBay and Pay Pal.  Just went to the mailbox and picked up six Casio F91-W Terrorist Watches and a nice MP3 player.  Total price: $20, shipped from China.  The MP3 player will be a test mule for a headphone amp I’m developing and the red, white and blue Terrorist Watches will get remixed into red/white/blue ones for friends.

  49. The Canadian PayPal User Agreement says: “Further, if you lose a SNAD Claim because we, in our sole discretion, reasonably believe the item you sold is counterfeit, you will be required to provide a full refund to the buyer and you will not receive the item back (it will be destroyed). PayPal Seller protection will not cover your liability.”

    Whether the violin story is true or not, I’ve just closed my account, citing this and the Wikileaks blockade as reasons.

  50. I have read a lot of comments that indicate that it would be appropriate action for the dealer to destroy the fake article. What I don’t understand is that the fraudulent article is evidence in a small to large claim. How is wrecking the original a good idea, ever?  Why isn’t “return the phoney product upon and refund the customer their money” the proper action?

    1. also, too, triple damages and emotional loss. I’d say any jury would agree that there is a lot of emotion in a super rare master violin. I’d estimate 25K worth of settlement to make this go away. 

  51. Fraud indeed. The seller should be contacting their state’s Attorney General’s office as well as the Postmaster General (this might also constitute mail fraud). The list of agencies that could jump on this is quite large.

    1. Completed Listings only shows 14 days worth of transactions.  It’s highly likely it’s been longer than that since the sale.

  52. Are these people sheep?  Why couldn’t Erica and the buyer work it out themselves?  Hire their own escrow person to make the exchange. 

  53. “The buyer disputed the authenticity of the violin — which had been authenticated by a top luthier — and PayPal instructed him that he could have his money back if he destroyed the violin.” Any idea how that information was garnered? The article is short on any proof. Not that PayPal hasn’t crossed me a couple of times but how did they get access to a private conversation between the customer and PayPal?

  54. I stopped using PayPal 5 years or so ago, when I bought something on ebay, got half of what I bought, disputed via PayPal (denied), disputed via Discover, received a manila envelope in the mail containing screen prints of the PayPal internal website containing all information (credit card, ssn, purchase history, addy, phone, etc, etc)…. OF SOMEONE ELSE!  When I called to complain, they didn’t care.  A week later they called back (I emailed them saying I was contacting the person since they weren’t planning on it).   I wasn’t home so they left a brief message, then assumed the recorder stopped and had a 5 min internal discussion about how big a screwup they made.  I wish I’d saved it.  They are idiots.

  55. I don’t like dealing with PayPal.  I have a PayPal account which they refuse to close because I won’t give them my bank account.  How stupid is that?  They put the account on some sort of hold but won’t close it.    They have stupid rules.

  56. Holy shit! What a crime! I’ll be thinking twice before I ever consider selling anything via PayPal (aside from the Wikileaks sell out)

  57. PayPal may be harsh to it’s vendors, but they’re dedication to the consumer is phenomenal in my experience.  All of my problems and complaints  regarding PayPal have been as a seller of goods.

  58. I’m not sure why any seller would ever accept Paypal.  Its great for buying but I would never accept it as payment for anything of value

  59. Just sent them this letter from my paypal account:

     I have been made aware of an absolutely obscene act of destruction by paypal. Instructing anyone to risk destroying a priceless, irreplaceable antique musical instrument, REGARDLESS of it’s authenticity, is obscene, offensive, and worth ceasing all future business with your company for.The correct thing to do would have been to instruct the buyer to RETURN the item for a REFUND, like, you know, EVERY OTHER SELLER IN THE WORLD.You know perfectly well the power of social media, (eg facebook, twitter.) EVERYONE will find out about this gross offense towards artifacts of human culture and civilization, and if a public apology and policy change are not made forthwith, you will lose an inestimable amount of business.You careless, destructive assholes.————————–I suggest EVERYONE send them a similar threat.

  60. I would close my PayPal account, but at this point it’s the only viable option for getting money out of Second Life and into my bank account.  So, until Linden Labs provides another choice, I’ll be grudgingly keeping my PayPal account.

  61. This seems like the same thing they do with warranty buy outs however. My air conditioner stopped working. The company that sold it, doesn’t support it anymore, so they “bought out” 3 of the 5 years of warranty left on the thing. They then wanted me to destroy it before they wrote the check. Well destroying a AC is a bit more work I guess, as their only requirement was that I “cut off” the power cord before I get rid of it, presumably to prevent anyone else from fixing it (though if they know how to fix an AC, I am pretty sure they know how to re-wire a simple power cord)…

    It seemed pretty shocking at the time, to have this bit of maliciousness as part of the pay out. I guess to the people paying the bill, they don’t care if it is an AC or an WWII era violin.

  62. This is upsetting if true, but at this point it seems at least as likely that it is not true (or that there is a great deal more to the story).  I’m at a bit of a loss as to why people are going to the seemingly rather drastic extent of closing down their accounts based one not-particularly-well-substantiated report.

    1. I’m at a loss as to why you can see through the primary story but not the ones in the comments about closing accounts. 

    2. They’re closing down accounts because this isn’t the first strike against PayPal. If you’ve had a lot of dealings with them, you know they’re a terrible company to work with. Not only that, but their terms are ridiculous if you read them closely, and they have done so many boneheaded things the past year that I don’t trust them with my money.

      My own example: It took me months over the summer to figure out why PayPal suspended my account and without notice. Then when I’d call to find out I never got an answer. Months later, someone finally told me that it was because my account had been hacked. Great that they stopped a hacker, which I really do appreciate, but seriously? They should TELL ME about the problem, not just expect me to magically know. That’s not the first problem I’ve had with them either.

      So to sum up, it’s not “one not-particularly-well-substantiated report.” It’s a slew of bad policies, terrible customer service, stupid decisions, and a complete lack of interest in helping customers and sellers.

  63. If anyone was wondering how PayPal gets away with this sort of thing, the answer is that the world is full of people who refuse to believe the person who’s been victimized.

    1. I have no love for PayPal, but…if someone, knowingly or unknowingly, sells a $100 violin for $2500, can they be considered a victim?

       I feel bad for her because I think she’s sincere, but this happens ALL THE TIME in the violin market. Someone takes a crappy violin, slaps a legitimate maker’s label inside and sells for big $$$ to someone who doesn’t know any better.  She doesn’t seem like the original perpetrator, but she was still selling a fraudulent violin. Any legitimate instrument by that violin maker would cost $25K at least.

      1. You jump to a great deal of assumptions Rusty, the condition of the violin means quite a bit and perhaps it was in a condition to only be worth $2,500. You have no idea of the providence of the item, nor where she got it. All we do know is that she has at least one person willing to sign off that it is genuine and, so far as we have seen, nobody on the buyer’s side (other than the buyer) contradicting her.

        The original post goes on to say…

        “I sold an old French violin to a buyer in Canada, and the buyer disputed the label.

        This is not uncommon. In the violin market, labels often mean little and there is often disagreement over them. Some of the most expensive violins in the world have disputed labels, but they are works of art nonetheless.”So, it seems like this isn’t all that uncommon of an issue. And now, apparently AFTER having the violin destroyed, PayPal is now looking into the matter.

        1. “providence” 
          I think you mean “provenance”

          1: origin, source
               2: the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature

      2. I have no love for PayPal, but…if someone, knowingly or unknowingly, sells a $100 violin for $2500, can they be considered a victim?

        I don’t know, dude. If somebody steals your car and runs somebody over with it, are you prepared to pay for the crime? The seller did her due diligence by taking it to a luthier.

        And you have no basis for calling it a fake except the price, which is weak. Price is based on multiple criteria, such as design and condition, not just the name of the maker.

        1. Point taken. I am making a lot of assumptions- there is a possibility it was genuine. Based on my experience, I find it doubtful. But I really know nothing for sure. And I am in total agreement that Paypal’s policy is fucked up.

          I just get riled up when I hear “There is no such thing as a counterfeit violin”, which is BS of the highest magnitude.

      3.  In violins, there is a long, LONG tradition of what are known as “vanity labels” .. there are literally MILLIONS of violins out there with Stradivarius labels, no one believes them to be real Strads.  Any half-educated violin buyer pretty much ignores the label and looks at the instrument.

        Similarly, this violin is just a vanity label by the look of it. The internals look way too clean for an 75 yr old violin. The back by the label shows clear signs of varnish overspray. The original wuold not have been anywhere near a spray gun.

        Whilst everyone is rushing to defend the seller, I think you need to just at least accept that this is pretty much certainly a $100 chinese violin. The buyer was greedily hoping to pick up a $25K violin for 1/10th of its real price and, got burnt.

  64. Simple Kevin,
    Because without EVIDENCE that the item was indeed fake, Paypal had no legal authority to order it to be destroyed. There is a difference between someone saying, “This is a fake” and someone saying “This is a fake, here is the report from my appraiser.”

    Instead, Paypal has potentially opened themselves up to criminal and civil charges.

    1. As soon as the countless sites I use daily take it I’m there. But until then, PayPal has won.

    1. Wow .. Spiegel is (was?) pretty big in Germany … but I notice that their article also contains a lot of conditionals … ‘could be’, ‘allegedly’  (es scheint, sei) so .. no one has really gotten to the bottom to the story yet … 

  65. Paypal version of a take-down notice. 

    There’s something else missing, Paypal is only the method of payment…who was it sold through? They may have their own policies, which would override Paypal’s.

    I bought an Item through eBay. Payed through Paypal. Item shipped through UPS. After many heated discussions with the seller, I won on both fronts, even after he warned me that eBay almost always sides with the seller. I called UPS instead, the item was insured. I retained the item, received a refund, and was able to leave him a scathing review.

    I don’t eBay anymore either…he was right.

  66. The real crime here was for PayPal to instruct the buyer to destroy the Violin. The buyer should not  have destroyed it before having it authenticated. Buyer only said that they doubted the authenticity but did they prove that they were scammed?

  67. I remember reading an article about 5 years ago about how it has become impossible to legitimately buy or sell a laptop on ebay with all the scammers. 

  68. Can Paypal get sued for that? You would think that the idiot who gave that suggestion would be in trouble for giving that suggestion as they usually love regurgitating their t&c to save their sorry selves

  69. Well Paypal are complete retards and they treated me (as a buyer) completely differently about 4 years ago.

    At that time I purchased a “vintage” guitar for $7,000 that is very, very definitely a fake – I collect these things and I know, I’ve also had my conclusions confirmed by two other expert collectors and licensed valuers.   In writing.

    Paypal didn’t give a damn.    I would love to have simply returned the piece of junk (it’s actually completely unplayable) and got my money back but Paypal and eBay told me to take a hike.

    I would have been even happier to destroy the thing, which is what I will eventually do as I’m not prepared to put it back on the market and destroy the value of my other, genuine, instruments.

    My only recourse was to post extremely bad feedback about the seller who was running a fake production factory.    No way of getting my money back.

    Bottom line: Paypal and eBay should NOT be expressing opinions on whether an item is real when they have no expertise.

  70. I think the main problem here, other than the absolute stupidity of PayPal’s policy, is that it doesn’t sound like the buyer had the authenticity checked or validated. Which, honestly, don’t you think you should do that BEFORE dropping $2,500 on an item??? Regardless, if the buyer did have the item verified as a counterfeit, then the destruction of said item and the return of money kind of becomes moot because, yeah, selling it as the real deal would constitute fraud. If, however, the buyer didn’t have the item verified and PayPal just took their word for it? Then that… there are no words for how despicable that is.

  71. i think pay pals mistake here was not getting someone to re authenticate the violin instead they took the persons word for it that it was fake even though there is no proof that he is a professional authenticator or luthier himself, just your average bloke who may know a thing or two about violins.

    for this reason i believe the seller can sue pay pal for instructing the destruction of the item without re authenticating to make sure it was actually a fake and not just some guy wanting his money back. this guy has no attachment to the item so he couldnt care less if it got destroyed especially if he didnt think it was real just by looking at it.

    unless of course we havent got the whole story here which im pretty sure we dont.

  72. SURE! She lost $2500 and her main goal in writing is to prevent them from ordering the destruction of violins!

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