PayPal Flunks Customer Service — Again

I’ve been using PayPal since before it was known by that name — years before it became part of eBay. I use it because it works for my eBay auctions, it works for collecting website payments — ask the folks at the Oyster Bay Historical Society what it did for their online book sales — and because it pays 1.5% cash back on my debit card and 3% interest on money I park in a money market account.

Second Incident. But I can’t say I’m impressed with their customer service. Several years ago, I wasn’t able to resolve a large fraudulent chargeback until the local Better Business Bureau got involved. Several days ago, I learned customer service at PayPal is still all about PayPal and not about the customer.

No Toll Free Number. Within a few minutes of it happening, I received email notification that my debit card had been used online to make a small ($2.49) purchase at ACTIVE RESOURCE TEAM SEATTLE WA, a business I’ve never dealt with and can find no information about. I called right away even though PayPal’s “customer service” number isn’t toll free, like those of most credit and debit card issuers.

Can You Spell Clueless? The customer service agent was polite and pleasant and totally clueless. She checked with a supervisor, who thought that Active Resource Team might be a food service provider. Unlikely. The agents suggested that somebody had probably punched in the wrong credit card number. Also, unlikely. The Luhn algorithm used to determine credit card validity makes it almost impossible to change one or two digits in a card and come up with a new, valid number. The agent’s advice: See if it happens again. Right. I’m always up for having my account wiped out by a thief.

The Onus Is on You. The customer service agents did send me the paperwork I’d need to execute to have a fraudulent charge reversed. As usual at PayPal, the onus would be on me to prove it was fraudulent. If a second, larger fraudulent charge occurred, say for the daily maximum purchase of $3000, I’d be out that amount until I could prove it bogus. But, first, I’d have to prove to PayPal that I’d contacted the “merchant” — those folks at Active Resource who have no presence on the web — to try to “resolve the dispute.” Are you getting the picture? Imagine if MasterCard, Visa or American Express treated their customers this way?

Here’s the Rub. Now I’m not a crybaby and I’m willing to follow the rules. What ticks me off about the way PayPal handled this incident is that the solution is simple and part of their system. It took two, maybe three mouse clicks to find the right button in my PayPal profile and immediately cancel the debit card so there would be no opportunity for subsequent fraudulent charges. And then another click to order a new debit card.

Best Guess Scenario. I have no proof beyond the facts I’ve recounted, but here’s my guess about that fraudulent charge. I think the small charge to a generically named “merchant” was a trial balloon whose success would be followed by a hefty zeppelin. If the folks at PayPal safeguarding my credit card are as clueless as the their customer service agents, it’s no wonder my card number leaked out.

About Louis J. Bruno

I studied English and psychology at Columbia College and stayed at Columbia, doing postgraduate work in psychophysiology, then teaching and doing research for several years. To keep the wolf from the door, I migrated into retail sales and management, at first for Radio Shack, briefly for Savemart, and finally for Newmark & Lewis. When N&L collapsed, I went into business for myself, providing sales, service, and maintenance of computer systems; designing, hosting, and maintaining websites; providing custom software, mailers, and database services to the real estate industry; and serving as a business consultant. My interests include writing, traveling, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, gardening, photography, history, art, jazz, swing, country and classical music, investing, management theory, civic activism, sustainability, particularly energy conservation, good government, the environment, and technology. And more to come, I hope.

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