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PayPal forces buyer to destroy $2500 pre-WWII antique violin in dispute (regretsy.com)
988 points by tfe 1844 days ago | hide | past | web | 289 comments | favorite

Some guides for buying violins that go back to 2006 which say to ignore the labels on violins.




Paypal TOS Covers counterfeit items:

10.1 b Further, if you lose a [Significantly Not as Described] 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. https://cms.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/marketingweb?cmd=_render-c...

If Paypal decides you sold a counterfeit item, you lose the item and your money.

Didn't know this 10.1 b clause until now but it makes it VERY clear to me:

NEVER use PayPal to sell anything that could in anyway be disputed as counterfeit given that the terms allow PayPal to deems what is genuine/fake remotely, without physical inspection and results in not only money witheld but a potentially genuine item being destroyed.

So so crazy.

I froze for a second after reading that statement, which I was completely unaware of.

I sometimes buy and sell rare coins (particularly US Morgan dollars), which regularly go for thousands of dollars. I have one on eBay at this very moment that I'm attempting to get $3000+ for.

I've never heard of such a dispute happening before, or have I had any issues in the past, but now knowing this, i'm really scared of what might happen.

We seriously need a viable competitor to the paypal/ebay system yesterday.

We seriously need a viable competitor to the paypal/ebay system yesterday.

That may be, and I make extremely little use of PayPal (only as a processor of credit card payments for merchants I trust on other grounds, and never as a seller of goods). But any new viable competitor to PayPal will have to solve all over all the cases of fraud and abuse that were responded to over the years by PayPal's current policies. "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (1881), page 1.

I think that the problem is exactly that paypal and credit cards try to solve the trust issue, but they do it in a simplistic way that heavily favors the buyer.

Let payments be payments like cash, and solve trust issues separately with things like escrow services.

It seems like this rule is designed to benefit not the buyer but an extra-transactional party, namely, the IP owner - that is usually the case in anti-counterfeit programmes. The case of the violin is just a perversion of a rule that was probably implemented to prevent the sale of fake watches, handbags, and the like.

This is where bitcoin may be useful.

Except that Paypal has only solved fraud from the consumer side. Policies like this leave the sellers ripe for fraud.

If I where in your situation, I would immediately add that text to all of my auctions with a justification as to why you will not accept pay-pal for your particular transactions. I would then use a third party escrow service for anything that pay-pal could consider a counterfeit. This sounds to me like Pay-Pal is doing the bidding of trademark holders. When that is not it's role in society. It's not the counterfeit police and it should not be in the business of destroying counterfeit merchandise. They should require it be returned and if they feel like being good Samaritans, notify the trademark holder of the infringement. Let the holder police their own crap.

On eBay, accepting Paypal is mandatory.

Is that a contract requirement to using Ebay? I understand that the system allows them to pay via Pay-Pal, but can you not stipulate that payment's via Pay-Pal will be refunded and the purchase will be canceled?

Out of curiosity, how do you destroy a coin?

The easiest way to destroy the value of numismatic coin would probably be to clean it. A coin at the highest level of grading would be "destroyed" (lowered to a less valuable rating) by simply picking it up outside of its sealed, graded holder.

There are plenty of ways to destroy it physically (throw it in a forge, bend it with pliers, etc).

I'm a bit more concerned that a scammer wouldn't destroy the coin per se, but make a claim on authenticity, causing me to lose my money and also the coin.

Would it be trivial for someone to dispute the authenticity of the coin, receive PayPal's request for its destruction, photograph something that looked like a mangled coin, and then essentially get the coin for free?

Considering the amount of money to be made, I think it's reasonable. I present the following:

1) Get the original (say, $3000 coin) carefully out of the holder - then smash the holder with a hammer.

2) Find a replica of that year coin, which really is a fake, for $10-$50. Scratch it up, bend it, whatever.

3) Send the original coin back for grading to be certified with a new graded coin holder and serial number, to be sold for $3000.

Right which is what seems so illogical to me about this policy. I having little experience with coins could probably come up with that one pretty quickly. As well with the subject of this post a violin. I could easily go get a kids First Start violin for under $100 and smash it, take a photo and send it in. This to me seems like the most ill conceived business process ever dreamed up. Hell 20 minutes in Photoshop and I could destroy anything.

Heck, with ones made of precious metals you can even actually destroy them and still make a good buck selling the gold.

That's why PayPal insists on you destroying the counterfeit item and providing proof that you did.

Except that the destruction is far easier to prove than the counterfeitness of the item.

This is just the "kill them all and let God sort them out" mentality applied to property.

Yes, but as pointed out elsewhere, the "proof" is easily photoshopped.

Lets do this?! We could buy anything, dispute the validity of said item, send them pictures of the destruction (keeping the original) and PROFIT! All these years of collecting underpants have paid off.

I remember a year or three ago there was a story going around about Chinese scrap metal recyclers getting shipments of "destroyed" euro coins and reassembling them to pass off as intact money. Turns out at the time the official method to decommission the coins was to pop out the center piece.

So to answer your question: In some cases, not well enough. ;)

EDIT: source: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2011/04/euro_coin_recy...

A physics teacher of mine destroyed one in class by putting it in acid for an experiment.

Funny fact: at that time it was illegal in my country (France). This law has been abrogated since then to allow machines that crush coins to make souvenirs.

Traditionally, by leaving it on the train tracks.

I'm pretty sure it would blend...

I presume you could take a bolt cutters to it and cut it up?


Square. Authorize payment via phone.

The terms don't allow that. It says that Paypal must reasonably believe the item to be counterfeit. For this kind of item, clearly only a physical inspection would be reasonable, and I would sue them over it.

But I agree - it's clearly better not to use Paypal at all.

Actually in this case the only reasonable way to validate it would be with an expert. Do you know how to recognize a badly treated XX century violin from a Stradivarius? I don't.

It also says "in our sole discretion", though. I think it would be a difficult case to win.

I would ask for proof of their 'reasonable belief' that it was counterfeit; If they don't provide, sue them for breaking TOS.

At their "sole discretion" means they don't really need a reason.

Wow, that is frightening. Especially when you consider that "at paypal's sole discretion" amounts to "whatever an underpaid, remote customer droid has decided based on 5 minutes of effort".

Don't you think, 5 minutes is realistic? Looking at customer "service" here in Germany, I would say: Autoreply or max. 30 seconds of manual "labor".

I've bought and sold a couple dozen pre-WWII violins on eBay. The violin I play (which I suck at) is labelled "Antonio Curatoli", which sounds old and Italian, but that name was just marketing by the German workshop that made the violin in the 1920's. I think of violin labelling as like the fake non-working decorative shutters in American suburban homes.

That's really shitty. It would be interesting to know what sole discretion or reasonable belief constitutes. I doubt ebay/paypal sent experts to 'investigate', they more likely said "If you, the buyer, believe it's counterfeit because of <whatever>, then it is. Seller won't sue anyway."

Is there a reason not to sue? That's $2,500 in losses. And the principle of it...

The above clause of the TOS is the reason not to sue. The seller agreed to a TOS that says that if PayPal decides that it is counterfeit, they refund the money and the item is destroyed, without any restriction on what care PayPal has to take to decide that it's counterfeit. So PayPal acted within the terms of their agreement.

Generally speaking, unilateral provisions in contracts render the contract unenforceable by the party they benefit. The fundamental principal behind common law contracts is the "bargain principal". There must be some "consideration" paid by both parties before a contract is valid (I will give you this, in consideration for your giving me that). A clause in a contract that said, "we have the right to breach this contract at any time we choose" would render the contract void, because there is no "bargin" involved. Such types of promise (a promise to give something with nothing in return) are called "charity" and are not enforced by law. You can tell Jery Lewis, "I promise to give you $20 at your next telethon", but he can't sue you if you don't pay.

So... that means that the either:

1) The provision in the contract can't mean "we have the write to breach whenever we feel like it"

2) or, that the TOS are unenforceable.

The wording in the TOS is designed specifically to not mean "we can breach whenever we want", but instead to mean "if you sell counterfeit goods through our service we will destroy them and not refund your money".

The words "we ... reasonably believe the item you sold is counterfeit" were deliberately chosen for this purpose. The fact that paypal can use its sole discretion just tips the scales in their favor. If they have reasonable evidence that something is fake, then they can destroy it, even if they haven't done due diligence to prove it's a fake.

The question comes down to wether or not paypal had reason to believe the item was counterfeit.

Their are certain cases where only a customer complaint would be sufficient to establish a "reasonable believe".

For example, if Picasso bought a painting that was said to be a Picasso original, and he called paypal and said "I didn't paint this, it's a fake", they would definetly be within their rights if they distroyed it, even if further investigation could have revealed he was lying.

In this particular case... you could potentially argue that the customer's complaint was in no way sufficient for paypal to reach a "reasonable believe". This does make the whole thing wildly open to judicial interpretation, however.

Even aside of the present article I found this interesting and useful. Thanks for the informative comment.

Its a shame that contracts have these kinds of protections in them that most people are unaware of as they get pummelled by these sorts of contracts.

Agreed with TomAnthony, interesting stuff. Takes me back to the days when my best friend was avoiding the big kid on the block because he owed him a soda. I guess this is a really tough case because the line of reasonable/not reasonable for this decision is extremely blurry.

The fundamental principal behind common law contracts is the "bargain principal".

Principle. (JSYK)

I wrote it on my iPhone @ 2 am....There are many typos.

In any case, once someone posts a comment I can't edit a post, so by posting a reply about a typeo, you only ensure that it will never be fixed....

Better than it be out there, posing as correct.

TOS mean as much as the lawyer you have. PayPal can't get you to agree to things that are illegal, and improperly designating counterfeits would/should qualify. Especially when PayPal is a defacto monopoly.

tl;dr lawyer up.

TOS mean as much as your small claims court judge decides it means.

They had a professional appraisal on the violin that said it was authentic. Paypal has its TOS saying they can call anything counterfeit and their TOS says they can't be held liable for it.

Sorry it's a judges job to say if you can or can't be held liable for your business terms and practices.

Seems like he would be holding the buyer liable in small claims, not paypal.

You can put that you own the customers soul in a tos or other ridiculous claims, but It will never upheld. This won't hold up in court.

caught -> court: oddest typo I've seen yet

For most Britons the two words are homophonous, which makes it a great deal less odd.

(Americans also make typos which look odd to Britons, for example "mute point".)

It does sound similar. I regularly catch myself making pronounciation-based typos even though I definitely know the correct spelling.

The mere existence of a contract is not evidence of its legality/enforceability.

Unless you are someone who cannot afford the legal fees that would allow you to challenge said legality/enforceability. Which is pretty much anyone.

A $2500 case would go to small claims court in most US states where legal fees are not as much of an issue.

It's much bigger than a $2500 case any lawyer worth his salt is going to argue that the seller has suffered irreversible damage to his brand as a seller.

In California, the small claims court fee for this case would be $50, and lawyers are barred from representing either party.

Until the appeal, I believe.

It looks like you're right. I wasn't aware of that.

But someone's got to stick their neck (and wallet, if only temporarily) out to challenge these.

PayPal is not qualified to know if the Violin is real or not, So there would be grounds that it would be impossible for them to know without an expert.

Especially when the seller claims he had a professional appraisal done on it.

Are you a lawyer? Because it doesn't look like users are actually required to hold PayPal harmless in the event of property loss due to bad counterfeit decisions.

Are you a lawyer? You appear to believe that a signed contract is inviolate. I am not a lawyer either, but I've dealt with contracts enough to know that the clause in this contract has "reasonable" in it for a reason, and that "reasonable" does not mean "whatever we think is reasonable".

No, I'm not, and I didn't represent myself as one. I'm not sure what you find objectionable about my comment. I was wondering if the person I was replying to actually knew more than me or if he was speaking with undue certainty, so I asked.

It does say "in our sole discretion," though... Which is pretty much "whatever we think is reasonable."

So there's that.

The contract does not say, for example, "when we, at our sole discretion, toss a coin and arbitrarily decide one way or the other".

I think that tossing a coin and using reason are different, and I believe that a court would uphold my expectation that reason was used. Paypal will then have an opportunity to present their reasons. In this case, IMHO, it would appear that a "reasonable standard" of "reason" was not used.

The reason I said that isn't entirely because of the TOS but also because of the cost and logistics. Various courts could potentially decide that such clause isn't legal.

In any event, even if the clause is legal you can challenge the decision to declare the item counterfeit. If the court finds that the decision was procedurally deficient or unreasonable it can be overturned.

A great deal depends on what kind of representations the seller made to potential buyers. I think it's significant that the story does not include a link to the original auction/for-sale listing, or copies of the correspondence between buyer and seller. There's no mention of seller offering to refund buyer's purchase price or what kind of dealings they had, leading me to suspect (though not conclude) that the two parties to the transaction had fallen into dispute. It's possible that the buyer just got cold feet and unilaterally invoked his/her option to get a refund, but that would seem rather unusual. I've had a few eBay transactions over the years that were mildly scary (large sum paid out, radio silence from the other side for more than a day), but they're almost always just normal communication problems that are quickly resolved.

Right, I get that the TOS covers what they did, but couldn't the argument be made that they acted on their TOS irresponsibly? It doesn't sound like they did much to verify/investigate whether the violin was indeed counterfeit.

It now appears that the seller did get the violin authenticated.

From a brief search, it looks like eBay had to pay large sums multiple times for selling counterfeit goods. $2500 violin, as sad as it is, is small fries. It seems that it's cheaper to operate under the assumption that if there's a suspicion an item is counterfeit, then that's more likely than not. Even if they messed up and lose a lawsuit from a seller, they'll pay a small fraction of what they'd pay a manufacturer.

>"eBay had to pay large sums multiple times for selling counterfeit goods"

I thought ebay provided a marketplace, I didn't realise they also sold goods?

Contributory infringement is a real thing in the US. You can be liable for providing the means.

1. Get a greedy lawyer

2. Sue Paypal for negligence.

3. Show up any conversation with buyer stating that the piece was priceless and the sale was only symbolic because he proved that he would keep the violin soul alive by playing it.

4. Add psychological trauma and other stuff to step 2.

It actually seems reasonable that PayPal would destroy counterfeit merchandise but it better be certain before doing so. Seems like it would make more sense for the item to be turned over to PayPal or law enforcement but perhaps that's too costly?

We're not talking about a fake handbag here that's replaceable with the genuine thing made in the Chinese factory across the street.

Antiques are irreplaceable and you'd better be sure what you're doing before destroying something like that.

Man I hate paypal. I wish everyone would just stop using this junk. They are much much worse than any government in the world who just sucks taxes out of the brave one who starts a business. PayPal is such a risk for merchants, most don't even realize. I had funds blocked for 6 months and appeals denied ( not even read IMO ) for complying 110% with their terms. Just stop using PayPal.

How is this legal?

To answer a couple of questions:

1. $2500 is a mid grade violin. I have a 100yo Czech violin that is worth $250. Sears specials for Jr. High students can cost $100.

2. The seller is right that the Label doesn't qualify as intentional counterfeiting. My Czech violins says its a Strad. This is extremely common, and should be taken more like a 'inspired by' tag--unless of course the maker is reputable enough to place their own tags.

It seems to me that the problem is paypal's definition of counterfeit shouldn't be expanded to cover objects where you truly need an expert to determine the counterfeit status. Knockoff rolexes are on thing, but at least from the post, it seems they are taking the buyers word, and don't understand the nature of violin labels.

Also, isn't PayPal owned by eBay? Aren't there thousands or even tens of thousands of counterfeit items littered across eBay?

FWIW, trying to compare two violins with recorded clips like the ones in that blog post is pointless because there are overtones picked up by the ear that you can't capture with a microphone.

I'm not sure whether or not to be surprised by the test results. I wonder what kind of credentials these "professionals" have? Even the best violinists probably have tried only a few of the many Strads and Guarneris in existence, so how would the professionals in this experiment know what to listen for?

> there are overtones picked up by the ear that you can't capture with a microphone.

Is that true? Shannon-Nyquist seems to disagree.

In short, ultrasonic frequencies will interact with each other in the room (reflections, reverb and so on) in a way that causes interference in the frequency range you can hear.

This is why it is important to record instruments with higher sample rates (192khz is standard) in order to fully preserve their sonic character for further processing.

This is one answer to the question "why do musicians record ultrasound," I hope it is correct. There are many answers given to this question and even a lot of sound engineers don't understand the concepts correctly, so hopefully I have got this right.

You also hear a lot of stuff about how filters need headroom to avoid creating aftefacts in the data; a LP filter creates more artefacts the sharper its cutoff curve, so therefore by having a lot of ultrasound one can have a very gradual cutoff (or a cheaper filter) and only discard data in the inaudible range. I'm less sure that this is true however.

Then there are a lot of people who think it's simply the usual "higher numbers are better" type of marketing games. They may well be right. All I know is, there is nowhere near enough double blind testing in the pro audio industry, and if they started doing in en-mass it would cause terrible trouble.

Hopefully, as usual, some expert will jump in here and lay down some solid facts. Be aware though that one cannot simply apply electromagnetic principles, it isn't always the same.

>In short, ultrasonic frequencies will interact with each other in the room (reflections, reverb and so on) in a way that causes interference in the frequency range you can hear.

If a vibrating membrane of skin in my head can react to it, then it is a wave traveling through air. Why wouldn't this hold for a microphone?

>If a vibrating membrane of skin in my head can react to it, then it is a wave traveling through air. Why wouldn't this hold for a microphone?

Microphones don't respond in the same way to the same frequencies that your eardrum does. They can generally only record a subset of the total audio spectrum. So they're unable to completely reproduce the sound that was created by the instrument. If the ultrasonic frequencies resonate with a frequency that you can hear, it can cause some odd things to happen if the mic isn't able to record the frequency directly.

( Background: I was a professional musician in a past life and I was quite involved in sound reinforcement. ) No two ears, nor no two microphones have the exact same response curve. I'm not yet convinced that what you or the original comment I reply'd to can be explained by differences in curves which, AFAIK, are relatively flat in the sonic regions we're discussing. The mic I referred to earlier looks to be flat to within 3db from 200hz to 20k. Are we discussing signals outside that range or within it?

The idea is that once you've recorded the sound, you want to be able to mix it with other sounds in an arbitrary virtual 3D space, so you need the ultrasound. I think.

I see, thank you. I'm not entirely convinced, but it sounds plausible enough. I'm no expert, though.

after reading the other responses, my guess is that there could be something to this if the ear's response is non-linear in some way that makes non-audible frequencies affect audible ones.

that might sound crazy, so let me give an example. cheap active speakers (the kind you plug into a computer) will often pick up radio transmissions from passing emergency vehicles. the speaker cable acts like an antenna and picks up the radio signal. now the radio signal is, of course, at radio frequencies, but there's some non-linearity in the amp that results in an audio signal (an understandable one) coming out of the speaker.

that's a fairly extreme example, but here's another more biologically believable one. perhaps there are frequencies which are high enough to be inaudible, but which influence the ear in how it responds to audible frequencies. for example, perhaps the ultra-high frequency signal stimulates the ear in some way that makes it more sensitive to audible higher frequencies. then you would hear a brighter tonal balance when listening live than when listening to a band-limited recording.

i am not saying this must happen; i am saying this may be the (physically reasonable) basis for some belief / rumour / knowledge in the audio business.

[also, note that the non-linearity must be in the ear; if it's in the surroundings then the mic will pick it up too. and it must be influenced by frequencies that are outside the recording bandwidth otherwise you'd hear it on playback.]

For those who don't know, if there weren't nonlinearities in the ear you wouldn't hear difference tones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difference_tone). Those nonlinearities are interactions within the audible range though, not interactions between audible frequencies and ultrasound.

(Difference tones are a convenient way to tune a violin: when two strings are a fifth apart (as they should be), the difference tone is at the octave, and it's easier to get an octave right than a fifth.)

<quote>there are overtones picked up by the ear that you can't capture with a microphone.</quote>

I am confused. I think you're claiming that, for example, a KSM-137 has frequency response in some part of the audible range that is so terrible that there are sounds it just flat out isn't capturing. What frequencies?

I admit I made an assumption when I said microphones can't capture certain sounds. I should instead have said:

There are overtones picked up by the ear that you can't capture with a microphone and accurately play back with average computer speakers, at least in my experience.

Whether the loss in quality is the microphone's fault or the speakers' fault, I don't know. Regardless, there are sounds the musician hears and feels that not even the average in-person audience can hear, so I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's impossible to accurately judge violins based on digital recordings.

This, I can buy. More so even lossy codecs over crappy speakers.

I am wary of the argument that there exists this great gap between average listeners and trained musicians. There is a training gap, surely, but IMHO the raw auditory discrimination capacity just isn't all that different. I'm just a dumb brass player, but trumpets all sounds very, VERY distinct from one another to me, generally. I attribute that to practice, not acuity.

Hmm.. I'm not entirely sure if by the "gap", you were referring to this, but just to clarify:

When I said there are sounds the musician hears and feels the audience cannot, I wasn't referring to the ability to pick out different sounds, but rather the physical impossibility of certain sounds (e.g., higher-frequency overtones, squeaking strings, rasping strings) to be heard beyond a certain distance away from the instrument being played.

To go off on even more of a tangent, I sometimes feel bad that not enough people get a chance to listen to musical performances up close. I mean really close, with the musician in front of them in the same room so they can hear "almost" everything.

"Almost" because, at least for violins, you can't hear or feel everything until you actually play the instrument (can any violinist here vouch for this?). This is especially so because the chinrest transfers some of the vibrations to the ear through the bone, and there are sounds made by the bow and strings that only the person playing can hear simply because they are too quiet, and that only during quiet pieces, etc.

I've never played a Strad, nor do I have much experience, but I wonder if nearly irrelevant details such as these are a part of what sets the best instruments apart from the rest?

re: the gap: I wondered that a little too, but being a dumb brute of a brass player, not too much. My command of the dynamic range dominates the loud end, I'm afraid.

I agree that performances are vastly better experienced in person.

A doctor recently was allowed to subject a museum Stradivarius to a CAT scan. Hopefully we'll be learning more about what truly distinguishes these instruments.

It seems to be, that most of PayPal's PR blunders result from heavily regulation of stupid employees. I know we don't tolerate personal insults here on HN, but those of you who have spoken to as many PayPal reps as I have, will probably agree that there are few other ways to describe them. I guess their logic is: "If we can hire dumb people for less money, and regulate them so they can't make mistakes, we can save money! Genius!"

Honestly, this just goes to show how important hiring really can be. Someone with enough common sense to say "hey, that doesn't seem right" would eliminate so many of these problems.

It seems to be, that most of PayPal's PR blunders result from heavily regulation of stupid employees.

Funny, but heavily regulation of stupid employees seems to be the source of many complaints about the TSA, government agencies in general, traffic enforcement, customer service reps, etc...

Understandably. Stupid people need jobs too, and they apply to a lot more of them than average people.

So our social organization tends to place stupid people into customer service positions. This is why a company like Zappos that puts non-stupid and caring people into such positions distinguishes itself.

Somewhat entertaining example:

A company I worked for briefly that services the UK had its sales team in Canada, and its customer service team in India. Not saying Indians are stupid of course, but labor is certainly cheaper there, as compared to Canada.

Are they stupid? Or has heavy regulation made them afraid to use common sense they in fact possess?

When faced with incompetence, always ask for another rep. Two employees at the same company will often give you two different experiences. This is true of all the contact I've had with AT&T, and others, and no doubt the same is true at Paypal. Just don't even waste your time if you can tell the person you are talking to does not comprehend your complaint, just hang up and call back and keep calling back until you reach someone with half a brain.

Yeah that's what I ended up doing. At first, I couldn't believe anyone could be so incompetent, so I kept trying to break up the problem into pieces. Big mistake :(

Very true. We had noticed that any time we had a poor experience with tech support at our main web host, it was the same person. We've turned to either disconnecting chats until we get someone else or (where possible) requesting others specifically by name. The difference can be huge.

Personally I've had great experiences with PayPal's phone support through PayPal Advantage.

Sad, I always keep missing the threshold

As a musician, there's something genuinely horrific about the destruction of a musical instrument.

Whether it's the fault of PayPal or not, I really hope whoever has done this gets what they deserve.

> I really hope whoever has done this gets what they deserve

I think they did. They got $2,500.

For some reason I believe the buyer and not the seller. I think the seller fraudulently listed the violin as not what it really was, and got called on it.

My reasons are:

a: The buyer has only a minimal reason to lie (if they didn't like the product and tried to return it but couldn't).

b: The seller refused the return, which is unusual for this type of purchase.

c: "But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins" - sorry but that type of "moral superiority" is done (in my experience) by people who know they are morally wrong, but are trying to claim the high ground.

Obviously I have no actual knowledge here, but that's my sense.

c: "But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins" - sorry but that type of "moral superiority" is done (in my experience) by people who know they are morally wrong, but are trying to claim the high ground.

I have the same (perhaps irrational) emotional attachment to musical instruments (and rare antique computers, old books, etc.) as the GP. It seems like a "sin" against music and the labor of the instrument's creator to destroy an instrument. I also think it would be wrong to destroy a counterfeit painting, for similar reasons.

According to the article, PayPal didn't give the seller the option to accept a return. So (b) is out, and that undermines the logic of your position in my opinion.

I don't think you read the email properly. The seller implies that their preferred outcome was to have the violin returned and, presumably, the price refunded. That dispenses completely with your reasons (a) and (b).

There's all kinds of reasons someone would want to refuse a violin. Sudden financial hardship. Learning that new violins are actually better than old violins (I'm not arguing that this is true: someone might become convinced of it in a matter of days). A daughter that suddenly doesn't care about violins anymore. This is an incident and there are numerous explanations to believe someone who is anonymously complaining about what happened.

The seller refused the return? What do you base this on?

Yeah I agree that's a solid case for destroying an antique instrument and fining someone $2500.

The buyer need not lie for this to happen – it could be as simple as they were mistaken and genuinely believed that it was fake (assuming it wasn't).

"But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins" - sorry but that type of "moral superiority" is done (in my experience) by people who know they are morally wrong, but are trying to claim the high ground.

How many instances of "moral superiority" have you witnessed, and how firm is your proof of their "wrongness"? Can you list at least 3?

Is there a mechanism preventing people who are genuinely entitled to the moral high ground from taking it, especially if they have been egregiously wronged? Your post doesn't make sense unless this exists.

Note: the story only mentions the end result, not the path to that end results - so we only have a partial story

I've been through the PayPal dispute process as a buyer several times. It can only be escalated to a PayPal decision after communications between the buyer and the seller have proved unsuccessful / broken down, as in the seller doesn't reply, or refuses to sort out the situation. It doesn't happen overnight.

It's not clear which way this went, but after negotiating with the seller proved fruitless, and then being forced into raising a PayPal dispute, then again the seller failing to resolve the matter forcing an escalation to a PayPal decision - this led to the path of destroying what was claimed to be counterfeit materials.

So the seller knows that violin labels are a contentious area, thus perhaps should have been more accommodating and resolved the issue without forcing the buyer to escalate.

From the buyers perspective, being asked to destroy an item they claim is counterfeit as a pre-requisite to getting his money back seems a rather straightforward step.

Clearly the buyer and seller disagree with the authenticity of the item - but that should have spurred the seller to remedy the situation rather than force an escalation to a PayPal dispute. That way the seller wouldn't have lost out.

The seller's failure to resolve the situation appropriately, before the buyer felt it necessary to escalate a Paypal dispute is part of the problem here. I guess the seller was playing hardball instead of negotiating in good faith. And by playing hardball and failing to resolve the problem initially, the seller loses.

Where the seller believes that they sold an authentic item, and the buyer disagrees, isn't it logical for the seller to offer a good faith refund and send-back without forcing the buyer to raise a paypal dispute and then escalate it when no resolution could be made?

This is it though, you don't know the path to the end result. In that it could quite easily be that the buyer is a pain and has escalated it when the seller disputed the buyers claim that it was not authentic and have stated that it has been checked before hand.

I have had dealings with people on Paypal and eBay where the issue has been escalated quite quickly because the buyer was a pain in the ass. I had one buyer who escalated a claim because they had paid by eCheque and we sent the item the day after the item had cleared yet they were raising dispute before the eCheque had cleared.

Some people just don't work the system properly which can lead to these situations so quickly. From a sellers point of view, the system doesn't work. It's all about the buyer

Yeah. I'm selling some old stuff on eBay, using money to buy newer stuff, drawing the difference from the bank when the PayPal balance is not enough. Repeat.

After not even two cycles of this, I get an email from PP saying:

> Starting MM/DD/YYYY, money from payments you receive will be placed in a pending balance for up to 21 days. By doing this, we're making sure that there's enough money in your account to cover potential refunds or claims. [...] We reviewed your account and determined that there's a relatively higher than average risk of future transaction issues (such as claims, or chargebacks, or payment reversals). We understand that it may be inconvenient to have your payments temporarily held but please know that we didn't make this decision lightly.

That's right. You didn't make this decision lightly. You made it out of greed. You're simply looking for ways to keep my money longer than necessary in order to accrue interest, or whatever. How is this legal? It's my money.

Fortunately, I noticed that selling stuff on Amazon is not too different from eBay. So I'm thinking to move my transactions to Amazon and stop using PayPal altogether.

Banks do this as well. In fact, it's fairly common.

> It's my money.

Actually, no. See, if someone pays through PayPal with a CC, they are paying on credit. Not cash. Credit cards work through credit card companies and banks, and they have rules. Because you are using PayPals association with these banks, you have to play by PayPals rules.

If you want to accept credit cards, you can do so without PayPal. Just get it from your bank directly, but it won't be as easy as setting up a PayPal account.

I can assure you they do not do it to earn interest. PayPal loses far more money on chargebacks, fraud, payment reversals, dispute resolutions, etc. than it makes on a measly 21 days of interest.

Further, "hold backs" (aka "reserves") are very common in bank-operated credit card merchant accounts.

I wonder how much money they actually lose on a chargeback though? Chargebacks are debited from the merchants account (i.e. the merchant wears the cost of the fraud). So despite the origin of the fraud, the merchant wears it.

This is at least true with digital goods that can't be returned, I don't know what the policy is in regards to physical goods and PayPal.

I think it's fair to say the answer is "a lot". Especially in cases of fraud, there's not going to be any money in the merchant's PayPal account to debit. They were gone long before the chargeback came through, and they aren't going to leave a legitimate bank or credit card linked to the account to go after either. PayPal takes those losses.

PayPal losses are somewhere in the teens of basis points. Not all chargebacks are passed on to merchants.

So why didn't they do that from day 1 when i opened my account 8 years ago?

Because it's not very user-friendly.

Bait and switch.

That's a harsh description, I think. But it's true that PayPal does some things over time that other payment processors do upfront. That is one of the primary reasons PayPal has been so successful.

When your money is in PayPal's hands, it's technically theirs because they are not a financial institution. Your money is not insured or protected in any way other than how PayPal deems appropriate. They are not liable for anything, unlike a bank. So it's not only illegal at all (perhaps immoral but hey), it's also perfectly OK because _you_ agreed to their terms of use when you opened an account with them.

That's only true in the US; in the EU, Paypal is actually a bank, registered in Luxembourg.

Sorry, I had to laugh a little when I saw this since I received the same notice recently. I've been using eBay / PayPal since 2002 with 100% feedback and hundreds of transactions, so you'd think they'd treat me like a loyal and valued member, nope. I think my trigger was that people were giving me refunds for my purchases and I was giving people partial refunds as well. During the holidays a lot of people I purchased from made mistakes and left items out so they decided to give me a little something. I guess all that buying, selling and issuing / receiving refunds cause them to flag my account.

I got that notice too recently, and I've had no activity in my Paypal account for more than 6 months, so I'm not sure what their rationale is...

> determined that there's a relatively higher than average risk of future transaction issues

Minority Report?

it's legal because PayPal is technically not a bank.

Technically, paypal is a bank:


It depends on where you are, in the EU it definitely is a bank.

Not that being a bank means much in the EU, see the situation in quite a few member states.

Then the law is wrong.

I mean, let's drop the literal-mindedness for a second. It's my money. They are holding it hostage. I want it back. They should not be allowed to do this.

Still nothing wrong with the situation, in your opinion?

No, you're wrong. Nobody is forcing you to use Paypal, you accept payment that way because it's convenient for both buyer and seller. You could advertise on Craigslist, but would you feel comfortable if someone says, 'I will send you a check, please ship to this address'? No, because the check may be bad and you could have a big financial headache. Likewise, many buyers would not be comfortable sending a check or taking a large amount of cash to buy something from a stranger. Finally, eBay allows you to reach a much wider market than you could through local classifieds, and takes care of almost all the administrative overhead of the transaction.

As a buyer, you want this security so that you can pay a few thousand $ without the fear of getting nothing in return. As a seller, you have to treat the 21-day float period as a cost of doing business, or else impose less generous terms of your own (and see less interest from wary buyers who do not want risk). In the business world suppliers are often expected to provide 30 or even 60 days of credit to commercial customers, and dealing with this is the essence of cash flow management.

It seems you want all the benefits of having your money instantly, but that someone else bears all the risk. The opportunity cost of the 21-day wait is the risk premium you pay for access to a large marketplace.

This is a terribly misleading response. You might as well point out that we're not forced to use banks and therefore they shouldn't be regulated either. The logic simply does not follow.

In fact, he is not wrong to expect that reasonable regulation be imposed on a company which borrows and handles funds. Paypal's system is highly unusual in comparison to other comparable banking services and is predictably often the target of these types of complaints.

Florian says the law is wrong, that paypal should be regulated as a bank. In response, you reject regulation in general. His position makes a lot more sense than your own.

I'm pretty sure PayPal charges fees for the convenience of getting your money instantly, which means nobody is expecting charity here as you seem to be implying. Thus, PayPal is not bearing all the risk, indeed they are being paid to carry the risk. I have a merchant account and it clears to my bank account next day, there is no such 21-day float period, which might be more common when you are being paid by a vendor but not a bank.

In my opinion their rules are exploitative and out of line with what I would expect from a company that I would do business with. (Edited to remove 'out of line with what rational people expect' comment, I do not presume to speak for anyone.)

Their fees are cheap compared to the consignment fees of an antique or other specialty dealer. That said, I am looking at it in the specific context of Paypal as a transaction-processing arm of eBay, an auction brokerage. I don't know if this violin was sold on eBay or through some private sale, but I suspect the former since private buyers usually negotiate terms in advance. They are somewhat exploitative, but on the other hand I consider the buyer's right to get what they paid for just as important as the seller's right to get the cash they sold their goods for. Having been on both sides of the transaction fairly frequently their fees and policies seem fair enough to me, but obviously YMMV.

Well, your post pretty much embodies everything that is wrong with the world these days.

"Cost of doing business"? ROTFL, I'm just a dude selling a handful of trinkets and baubles on eBay, once in a blue moon.

Your argument is like one of those math "proofs" that make sense internally, but are stemming from axioms utterly divorced from reality. You could "demonstrate" anything that way. You could even "demonstrate" how PayPal is "right" to keep my money for no good reason, or how Sony is "right" to have me waive my rights to sue them if I use their product. When they do it, it's called "EULA" and "cost of doing business" or some other kind of standard boilerplate bullshit like that.

But let me try the same tactics on their skin. Then it's called "theft" or "piracy" and I go to jail.

And what's the difference? They own immense quantities of cash, out of which they can afford to pay armies of lawyers and lobbyists, effectively superseding the law. I don't have that much cash, so I must dance to whatever tune they like to play.

All they have to do is couch this behavior in intricate pseudo-rational arguments like yours, or lofty but flawed rhetoric like you see all the time on TV, and "all is well" with the world.

This is bullshit. It needs to stop.

Start your own competing service then. Seriously. Then you'll understand why things are the way anigbrowl explains. The one "divorced from reality" is you. There is significant cost associated with PayPal's operation. Their management of all this risk is what earns them their profits.

PayPal provides a service and you are getting benefits from it at a relatively low cost. They are taking risk on from you selling stuff that is making them very little money (trinkets and baubles, as you described).

I'm not saying PayPal are a bunch of saints, or that they don't have some policies which aren't right. As a musician, I find the situation described in the article to be abhorrent, and it's behavior like this that prevents me from using PayPal except as a last resort. But what you are saying basically boils down a temper tantrum about how things should be different. Well, if you have an idea as to how to do this in a way that doesn't bankrupt you, there's your entrepreneurial opportunity. Go change the world.

You make money from the sales, right? And the amount of money depends on your claims that the trinkets and baubles have some residual value (as opposed to being merely pretty junk sold for flea-market prices)? Then you are doing some business, even if it is only part-time business.

They're not superseding the law at all. You have no automatic legal right to enter a private marketplace; if you want eBay/Paypal's low fees, you accept their conditions. If you want the full-service luxury treatment of an established auctioneer like Sotheby's, then you pay their huge fees. If you want the no-questions-asked simplicity of a flea market, then you rent a table and stand in the cold for hours.

This is the absolute best response to this post that we could ever have expected. Nailed it.

A good way to read Hacker News is just to follow 'anigbrowl comments:


He's like this all the time.

Cool. I'll second that for tptacek. (and sadly kragen got fed up of HN)

Aw, you're making me blush.

Why thank you, that was a nice thing to say.

In the other recent paypal PR debacle I don't think paypal deserved the level of vitriol that was leveled at them. Regretsy screwed up by operating in a way that would have caused most banks to shut them down, but it was horrible customer service on paypal's part that turned it into a disaster.

For this I would like to hear more details of the story but I don't see how paypal could possibly be in the right if the facts as presented are in any way accurate, this is abhorrent.

Thousands of sites act in exactly the same way Regretsy acted. PayPal's policies allowed that sort of use, indeed it seems to me to be most of where the use comes from. Whether a bank would have allowed that sort of thing or not isn't relevant, PayPal allowed it, then some employee decided they shouldn't.

In the other recent paypal PR debacle


edit: thanks guys

Whoa. I can't believe anybody would do this. Both PayPal demanding it, and the buyer following through.

The official policy is probably to have buyers destroy counterfeit products to prevent their circulation (possibly at the request of manufacturers?), and that's the reason this happened.

While I do get their point of preventing counterfeit circulation, who's to say that it is counterfeit? Paypal? The buyer? Unless they have a violin expert on board their team which handled the product physically, I don't think anyone should have the "right" to destroy something that's not proven as counterfeit.

Next week: counterfeit kitten claims lead to international PR disaster for Paypal.

Frodo should have just sold the ring via eBay as a counterfeit 'ring of dancing +1', had Paypal deem it fraudulent and then had Paypal use its magical powers to destroy it.

Paypal has a "Crack of Doom?" Actually, I'm more amused than surprised.

'The Eye of San Jose is on us, Samwise Tibbon!'

pretty stupid policy when applied to antique violins.

The manufacturer for that matter has probably been out of business for 70 years.

Yeah, that seems like what happened. A company like paypal that deals with literally every type of transaction imaginable ought to have a little bit more flexibility in their policies.

Step 1: Buy expensive Violin on eBay/PayPal.

Step 2: Dispute Authenticity. Ask for a refund / offer to smash as proof.

Step 3: Buy and Smash Cheap Violin and send PayPal photos as proof.

Step 4: Profit!

About 3 years ago I had to deal with a counterfeit item bought on ebay. In such cases an experienced seller usually offer full refund no questions asked, this is the best policy and saves time and the item, though the seller loses shipping charges they paid when the item was initially shipped and the buyer has to pay the return shipping, sometimes to make the buyer happy, seller even offer to pay return shipping. These small loses are usually considered as "cost of doing business on internet".

Paypal use to require the buyer to prove that the "assumed" fake item is actually fake. In my case Paypal asked me to obtain a certificate either from the original brand or some authorized dealer. If I would have gone that route I had to pay for appraisal fees and spend time shipping/taking item to the authorized dealer. I guess this was Paypal's measure against every other buyer crying fake when they start feeling buyers remorse.

I hope Paypal has not changed their policy of asking for the counterfeit certificate, making it too easy for buyers to claim fake items.

Not saying this didn't happen, but let's wait until we see something a little more official than a random claim on a blog that's known for its bias against PayPal before flipping out.

From first hand experience, PayPal has always sided with the buyer. I've definitely run into similar situations where I was forced to give a refund or face losing the item / PayPal withdrawing the money from my bank account even though I stated that no refunds were allowed on my eBay listing. PayPal told me that it meant (crap) and there was no such thing as a no refund policy.

If that's the case, I can't wait to go buy a bunch of music CDs and software on Ebay to pay with PayPal, only so that I can pirate them and then get my money back. /sarcasm

What a shortsighted policy, but then again PayPal has never been known for their agreeable business decisions...

You could definitely do this. But only a few times. Ebay / Paypal is all reputational. They'll side with you at first, but you'll be banned / blocked if you repeat this operation a few times.

Credit card companies work similarly. I've known people who've racked up huge bar tabs and then called their card in stolen.

In reality, most business is run on the honour system like this. You can dine and dash, but only until the wait staff start recognizing you.

I don't see at all where the seller refused to have the item returned. In fact, in both paypalcomplaints.org and Regretsy.com, the seller said:

"Paypal instructed the buyer of a vioin (sic) I sold on Ebay to DESTROY the item rather than return it to me..." - paypalcomplaints.org

"Rather than have the violin returned to me, PayPal made the buyer DESTROY the violin in order to get his money back." - Regretsy.com

So it looks like the seller tried to get the violin returned, but PayPal wouldn't issue the refund until it was destroyed.

Though if someone has that information elsewhere, I'd love to see it.

We don't know the interaction between the seller / the buyer. My guess is that the seller initially refused to give a refund back. I know as a seller I am generally hesitant to give a refund back if I know there was no issue with my sale. The buyer probably emailed the seller saying, hey you just sold me a fake. The seller probably responded it is not a fake, I will not give you a refund. As a buyer I hate the hassle of refunds since I just wasted X days listing it, then I have to file a complaint with eBay to get my insertion value / final insertion value back. $2500... that would probably be $100-200 in fees that you'll have to take as a lost for a week or two. The buyer escalated the issue straight to PayPal and this is when PayPal will immediately side with the buyer. PayPal would not be able to withdraw the $2500 from the buyer unless it was destroyed. The buyer destroys it, tada, the buyer gets the money and the seller just lost the product / the money. Welcome to eBay/PayPal.

I've sold a ton on eBay and Etsy and I've issued plenty of refunds for items lost in transit. Luckily, I haven't had an issue where the buyer got the item and wanted a refund, so I have no idea how it would go.

I guess as a seller in the Etsy community, I've heard so many shitty buyer stories, I tend to side with the seller. Everything from a simple claiming the item was never received when it actually was, to all sorts of bizarre schemes by buyers to get extra money out of the deal.

Regardless, PayPal should have gotten an actual expert to check out the violin before ordering it destroyed.

Wait, isn't $2500 very cheap for a violin? I seem to remember the rather mediocre violin I had as a kid costing more than that (such hopeful tiger parents).

You CAN get a great sounding violin on eBay for $200, but you might have to buy and return a couple dozen violins to end up with one you like. My story is, that for my kid, I bought a $5,000 violin from a dealer after doing blind testing among a range of violins with ourselves and my kid's high-powered teachers. Everybody agreed that this was a great sounding violin. A couple years later, I wanted a cheap violin for myself so I bought a $200 violin on eBay. It arrived with a fallen soundpost so I needed to take it to the violin store for them to reset it for $15, plus, I put new strings on it for $40. I ended up selling that one and buying another $200 violin, which needed a new bridge, which costs about $75 at the local violin shop. I didn't want to spend so much money for each of the violins I was trying, so instead of getting it fixed at the shop, I ended up learning how to shape a new bridge myself, to save money. What followed was a couple year period where I bought and sold about two dozen $200 violins. I would buy them on eBay, fix them up into playable condition, and resell them from my home via Craigslist.

So, the buyers would come with their own current violins and I would put my eBay specials AND my kid's $5,000 into the mix for the blind sound tests. The $5,000 violin was always one of the leaders but not always the winner.

Eventually I settled on a single violin that I liked the best to keep for my own. I took it to the violin shop where people had much more skill than me and spent about $600 to get a nicer bridge, soundpost, and for some repair work that I didn't have the skills to tackle. So, yes, I got a great sounding violin for $200, a couple years of trial and error learning, and then another $600 for rehab.

This is pretty much why I can't believe that any serious musician would buy a musical instrument for over a few hundred dollars, sight unseen. There are simply too many variables to make that kind of purchase worthwhile. If the buyer isn't serious about it, a cheaper instrument will probably be exactly what they need for years. For serious musicians, an instrument that they're comfortable with is more important than anything else, and they should be trying out every one before they buy it.

Re-reading what I wrote, I guess I made it sound like a negative experience, but actually it was a fun adventure. All the buying experiences on eBay were positive. I never felt like I got ripped off. It was fun learning how to fiddle with fiddles. In theory, it could have even been a sort of money-making hobby, although I only managed to only about break even (Am I supposed to count my tool purchases against profit? Nah.)

Whoops, forgot the quote. I was responding specifically to the line:

>So, the buyers would come with their own current violins and I would put my eBay specials AND my kid's $5,000 into the mix for the blind sound tests. The $5,000 violin was always one of the leaders but not always the winner.

There are some rarer instruments where you almost have to, for instance a bass sax. You aren't going to find one for under several thousand even in bad condition, and if you buy new it's hard to find somewhere to try one model, let alone compare more than one of the half dozen new models.

My poor Violin cost less than USD $100, you really ought to have got a very nice violin for USD $2500! If you still have it, it might be worth examining it and looking for a better resale value all these years later.

> If you still have it, it might be worth examining it and looking for a better resale value all these years later.

Just maybe don't sell it on eBay.

Cheap for an antique, perhaps. An everyday playing violin, especially for a student, can be had for one or two hundred dollars. Less, on eBay.

I've bought a couple dozen $200 violins on eBay. If you are looking for a cheap student violin, and you don't have much experience yourself with violins, I would not recommend buying on eBay. It's too hit or miss.

For that student, spend a little more. The cost of the lessons soon makes a extra couple hundred bucks for the violin insignificant.

For a really good violin, quite likely. My daughter has a cello that she obtained in High School years ago, and it was easily three time that, and it was not considered to be anything extraordinary.

You can spend $2500 on a bow.

Really? I think my childhood violin cost less than $200.

I have a friend who teaches violin to kids. He says that really cheap violins won't stay in tune at all, which makes teaching very difficult; it's impossible to tell the difference between poor playing and poor performance from the instrument. $200 (today) is most likely still in that category, with cheap but usable starting somewhere over $500.

This. The violin, bow, and strings all affect the sound produced.

In high school, I bought my violin and bow used for around $750. While it was fine for orchestral/symphonic stuff, it definitely paled in tone, volume, and responsiveness compared to some of my friends' more expensive violins.

When I got to be the soloist during my senior year, I borrowed a much nicer violin from my director and bought a new bow because I simply couldn't get the right sound out of my own violin.

Sorry, about staying in tune, I don't physics, mechanics, can support that teacher's belief. Do the pegs slip? That's adjustable. Are the strings crappy? Replace them. My experience is that there is a lot of false belief and superstition about violins including among violin teachers.

I suspect it's more likely that the wood warps in response to some combination of temperature, humidity and the mechanical forces applied to it during playing. It wouldn't take very much warping to cause a change in the sound.

Two thoughts:

1) The operative pieces of wood here are the nut, the bridge, and the fingerboard. These pieces are all non-integral, relatively easily, cheaply replaceable parts of the violin. I can see how a nut or bridge that's too high would make the violin harder to play with good intonation, and for sure, a fingerboard that is worn or misshapen could, but other than that, I don't think there's any other part piece of wood that matters.

2) Not a rule, but sort of a default rule of thumb for a certain level of violin playing is don't play on open strings because you can't do vibrato and you can't adjust the pitch while you're playing. I remember my kid's intense, Teutonic teacher saying to him, "Well, your strings are out of tune, but that's NO EXCUSE for playing out of tune!", meaning, she expected my kid to have been able to make the adjustments on the fly with his finger placements.

Well, that doesn't really mean much, if we don't know how old you are and can't adjust for inflation. :P

The violin in the article supposedly made it through WWII.

Lots of things made it through WWII. Bringing that up (it survived the Arab oil embargo, Iran-Contra, WWI, the Spanish-American Influenza, 9/11...) is just rhetoric to drive home that it was more than a century old.

'Erica' is selling a "French violin". WW II had a couple of unfortunate local consequences for France. Most of the list of things you mentioned might be perfectly irrational to name in a letter. WW I or II are good examples for 'Wow, it survived' remarks on local pieces of craftsmanship or art.

WWII treated France pretty well on the brute destruction scale. France didn't even lose most of its sovereignty after the invasion, with the Vichy regime resisting German demands when it wished to.

They didn't go through anything like what Japan, Germany, or Russia did, with the cities razed by fighting (Stalingrad), fire-bombing (Tokyo or Dresden), or atomic bombs (Hiroshima & Nagasaki). If a French violin had survived the siege of Stalingrad - now that would be impressive. But just being in France? That's about as impressive as a random Englishman surviving the Battle of Britain.

Saying that a violin has survived the oil embargo would not make any sense. Saying that this brittle musical instrument has survived a brutal war does make sense. Especially in contrast with its (allegedly) not having survived a legal dispute.

Are there any laws regarding the treatment of antiquities and museum pieces like this that could be used to get PayPal to shape up here?

The whole point here is that it's not really an antique piece. If I sell you a 'drawing by Picasso' for $10k, but when you examine it you see that's it's on a kind of paper that was manufactured after Picasso's death, then naturally you will want your money back. Now, the broker (eBay/Paypal) could simply require you to send it back to me and that I refund the money, but that likely means I will just sell it again and again until I find some sufficiently gullible buyer - putting all the risk onto the broker and damaging its reputation.

Now, we could argue about whether a drawing by some modern artist that looks very like the work of Picasso is really any less valuable in aesthetic terms, and this question has cropped up a few times in the art world - see Orson Welles' little-known masterpiece F for Fake for a documentary treatment of the subject. But the fact is that the buyer is not satisfied, and whether the buyer has poor taste or is acquiring a famous signature rather than excellent art is beside the point. The buyer could have chosen to love the piece on its own merits or sell it on to some more credulous or indifferent person, but has instead exercised a contractual right to a refund (from the broker). And the broker is, in turn, exercising its contractual right to make the seller carry the cost of the misrepresentation. The seller could have brought the piece to an expert and sold it for cash, as-is and no refunds, but experts are used to such risks and would offer a much lower price. By offloading much of the transactional risk to the broker (compared to, say, advertising it on Craigslist), the seller accepted the broker's conditions.

It's all very well to complain about Paypal being terribly mean, but somehow I doubt the original offer of sale was 'possibly-fake violin, buyer beware.' Lots of people sell damaged or otherwise flawed goods on eBay with no problem, but they clearly identify the potential deficiencies so that buyers cannot claim to be surprised after the fact. If authentication disputes are a common issue with used violins, then the seller should have used an authentication service or sold on consignment through a specialty dealer, and accepted the costs involved as a marketing expense.

Without knowing the actual details of the transaction, it's possible a more apt analogy would be buying a Picasso and receiving a Matisse - not what you ordered but you're not going to destroy a Matisse.

Violins often have fake labels but that doesn't make the violin fake (whatever that means). If the violin sold for $2500, then it was probably made by a relatively unknown maker whether the label was faked or not. As such, the violin should be judged by the quality/playability of the instrument.

Obviously we only have one side of the story, but either way it seems that Paypal didn't do its due diligence in determining the authenticity of the violin.

Edit: The label is visible in the photo and says it was made by Bourguignon Maurice. A quick search online reveals that his violins go for anywhere from $2500 - $1000 and he is certainly not unheard of. That said, there are plenty of violins by unknown makers that sell for the same amount so without any other details we really don't know whether the buyer was ripped off or not.

I agree that this was not a specific case of PP choosing to be vile and destroy a violin but it's still inexcusable to have a one-solution scenario and keep robotic, unquestioning staff incapable of providing the human element to problem resolution.

This is a case of a corporation dictating legal policy based on their legal interpretation. I am not even sure if they are masking it as legal policy really.

I am really wishing/waiting for a responsible company to be able to enter the international online payments arena but I don't see this happening anytime soon.

The thing is that any seller could go with a company that will handle this on a case-by-case basis - ie a dealer - but the commissions will be a lot higher because you're renting the dealer's expertise/reputation. Paypal's benefit is being ubiquitous and cheap, not as an expert arbitrator in specialty transactions.

I think the point is that paypal (and the buyer) are claiming it's not an antique or museum piece, but rather a counterfeit.

I'm surprised the dispute got this far. Normal SOP on paypal goes like this.

1. Buyer pays for expensive item with credit card through paypal.

2. Buyer receives shipping confirmation.

3. Buyer disputes credit card transaction.

4. Paypal customer service says "LOL, should have sold it locally. We don't recommend using our service for items like this."

5. Buyer enjoys free $2500 violin.

Paypal's destruction of counterfeits policy is intended to combat counterfeiting of designer items. It's application here seems lame-brained to say the least.

I'm curious how it got into Paypal's dispute resolution process however. In the only other original post I could find on the matter the seller says she sold the violin through eBay http://paypalcomplaints.org/paypal-told-buyer-to-destroy-ite.... Normally this would have gone through eBay's dispute resolution process first.

This is incredibly disgusting behavior. I have so much respect for the founders of PayPal, but current management is destroying their company and, sadly, their reputations.

um, these problems were present under the original founders as well, you just didn't hear it as much since they were just starting out and didn't have the same market share

"They somehow deemed the violin as “counterfeit” even though there is no such thing in the violin world."

Are you kidding me? Of course there are counterfeit violins. Just like there are counterfeit art pieces.

It's a bit more complicated than that. When buying antique violins, you generally ignore the labels on violins, as they're meaningless for determining authenticity. So being "counterfeit," as in not being what's written on the label, doesn't mean much.

This is atrocious. Couldn't they sue and say that they did not own the violin since they did not pay, thus destroyed someone else's violin?

Yes, yes you could. But good luck getting at paypal. The law doesn't apply to them.

Not even in a small claims court?

I took violin in 6th grade and all of our student models had the "Stradivarius" label. The teacher said about half the violins in the world had a label like that, it was just the style.

PayPal's actions and those of these anti-counterfeiting fascists make me sick. How long until they start organizing "counterfeit violin" burnings in the streets?

A lot of people are talking about finding an alternative to PayPal.

Does anyone have an opinion on Dwolla or Square?

I have also heard that Visa is getting into the P2P payment space, I suppose Google Wallet must have similar plans.

I used WePay recently to invoice a client and I really thought it was quite a pleasant experience. I considered using Dwolla but they seemed less established and credible. I had some questions about the service that their site didn't answer.

I was really happy with WePay. I hope I can use it more soon, it was really was very simple, and I think the features to "split the ticket" are pretty cool.

This makes me sick. Ordering to destroy? That makes absolutely NO sense to me. If someone told me this story in person, I would have thought that it was a joke. Paypal is right up there with godaddy on the list of worst tech companies.

The picture of the shredded violin causes me pain verging on the physical. It's probably best we don't know the identity of the buyer.

I hope the seller takes the buyer to small claims court. They should be forced to pay for a replacement violin. "but PayPal told me to do it" should not be a valid defense.

The seller agreed that if PayPal, at their sole discresion, thinks it's counterfiet, that they are OK with someone else destroying it.

I hate law pedantry.

It's worth testing the validity of that in court. You can write anything into a contract, but it doesn't mean it's legally enforceable.

The "buyer" accepted the risk that they were not legally protected when they voluntarily destroyed the seller's property.

I hope this gets taken to court, and that we get a clear answer.

Since it was not a counterfeit, what legal recourse might the seller have?

Disclaimer - I used to work at eBay but my work was not in any way connected with policies on counterfeits or Paypal. So the following is my speculation only.

While this specific case does sound awful, I'd bet that eBay/Paypal's draconian policies towards counterfeits is a result of number of lawsuits that designer labels have filed in the past against eBay. It would likely be impossible for eBay/Paypal to physically examine every item that is claimed to be counterfeit, so the blanket policy which lets them claim in court that they are doing everything reasonable to prevent counterfeit items being traded on eBay. Again, this particular case does suck, but honestly I think the real villains are the Louis Vittons of the world.

The way I see it the buyer/destroyer should be sued.

A sale was agreed upon. The goods were delivered. The money wasn't.

Buyer simply did not hold up his end of the bargain and should be taken to court.

In my simple view, PayPal does not even enter the picture. Or is there more to it than that?

The money looks to have been sent - in good faith - by the buyer. Otherwise, why would the seller have dispatched the goods? The seller dispatched the goods in good faith that the money had been sent by the buyer (to Paypal, acting as an intermediary to the seller).

The buyer most likely disputed the item after he received it. The dispute got escalated for reasons that haven't yet been established.

The goods were deemed to be counterfeit (perhaps the dispute was raised because of that, or it became a material complaint after the dispute was raised). Something/nothing happened which resulted in the seller and buyer unable to reach an appropriate resolution, and the matter was escalated to Paypal for action.

Paypal offered a return of the money to the buyer on condition he destroyed the counterfeit goods. Buyer destroyed item. Paypal took the money destined for the seller and gave it back to the buyer. The buyer has satisfied his part of the process.

So the outstanding part of the process is between the seller and Paypal. There either the contract was validly enforced, or Paypal need to compensate the seller.


It's called small claims court. Just take Pay Pal there, and win the $2500 plus costs.

Maybe I'm just utterly lost here, but I'm hoping someone can fill me in on how or why PayPal would have told anyone to destroy something they hadn't paid for? This seems rather ridiculous if it's true, on so many levels.

PayPal is known to protect the buyer over the seller. The buyer already purchased the violin. The buyer wanted a refund, but the seller refused and stated there was no refund for it. The buyer then filed a complaint with PayPal where PayPal told the buyer to destroy the eBay guaranteeing the $2500 back.

>The buyer wanted a refund, but the seller refused and stated there was no refund for it.

That was nowhere in the original article. I'll grant that it may have happened that way, but to state it as fact to someone asking for clarification is misleading.

Thanks for the answer. A system that allows for this kind of abuse might need checking over, can't say I get why that's allowed at all. Anyone ever seen this used in the right manner? (if such a way to use this method exists.) It just makes so much more sense to send the item back.

There's all kinds of people out there. I've had buyers who purchased something and claimed they never received it. I won the claim on that one since the buyer forgot that I shipped the package with delivery confirmation so it showed that it arrived at his door. I also had a buyer who wanted me to ship to him internationally, which I never do and upon receiving the item filed a complaint and said I charged too much for shipping. I was like seriously? I went out of the way to let you ship internationally, so of course it's going to cost more than shipping within the US. Needless to say I won all those battles, but people do file complaints for the stupidest things.

Basically you can think of PayPal as a credit card. The buyer is always protected over the seller. So as long as you, as a buyer, don't abuse your right, you'll be able to get away with a few claims.

I just wish PayPal supports SOPA so that we can make a GoDaddy out of them.

Unlike GoDaddy, there is no 100% comparable replacement for PayPal's services. You can get 80% there but they're not a commodity, there is value in their brand, their 230 million registered buyers and the dozens of countries they operate in that no other 3rd party processor does.

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

Any more info about the "disputed" label?

The initial problem here is a single PayPal employee that either didn't read the case well enough to understand the item involved or just doesn't care about antiques or violins (or both). Either way: an employee that doesn't actually care about customers and only abstractly cares about getting his job done, which is probably handling hundreds of similar complaints a day. I can't really blame him. The result sucks, but the system necessarily produces some excesses, because guarding against them is too expensive. Welcome to an corporatist, capitalist world with individualistic employees. It doesn't optimize for human happiness, only for added economic value, independent of who benefits from that value.

This invites a very lucrative scam:

- Buy an expensive antique using paypal for payment

- Wait for antique to arrive

- Dispute its authenticity

- Once PayPal destroy order arrives, send photo of cheap replica I destroyed.

- Get my money back AND have an expensive antique for free, which I then sell to a local antique dealer.

I couldn't find on the Internet a Bourguignon Maurice priced at less than $10.000. This certainly looks as if the seller tried to make an "irresistible offer" with their chinese violin that even had a inkjet paper label inside.

Here is one for $3300: http://www.audubonstrings.com/oscommerce-2.2ms2-051113/catal...

Here's one for $1975: http://www.homerweb.com/vintage/GREAT-Old-Antique-BOURGUIGNO...

That said, it doesn't sound like either have been authenticated and have been identified only by the label.


On the one hand, I can see why that particular clause (10.1b) is in their TOS. They don't want you (be you the buyer or the seller who got the item back) to re-sell the counterfeit item, costing PayPal the fees, and all of the lost time on the dispute.

However, there should be a reasonable limit, whereby if the item is >£x value, or is claimed to be an antique (or similar), an independent professional who can identify it will be hired -- and charged to whoever they side against (i.e. whoever made the false claim).

The thing is if an item is counterfeit and paypal allowed payment to proceed they could be litigated. If a third party imported counterfit goods and didn't take due action they could be fined and / or lose their license. Paypal does this to minimize risk and effort (cost) involved, whether this is a good way to minimize risk is apparent but than again this is paypal.

The sad thing is he could have bought a $5 piece of junk at the pawn shop smashed it to bits then showed Paypal a picture of that.

Something doesn't sound right here. Does the OP have any correspondence from PayPal showing that it indeed instructed the buyer to destroy the violin? Is it legal for PayPal to instruct and for a person to destroy property like this? Without some sort of third party mediation? Could the seller have offered to pay for an authentication?

What a terrible story - I'm sorry to hear about your violin. I just closed my paypal account; it took 60 seconds...

I would sue PayPal in small claims court.

That won't bring back the violin. :-(

This is a tad ridiculous. Very few of you know anything about violins and I'm sure none of you know the details of this story or if it's even true. Regretsy was being irresponsible in posting it without any evidence and many people here are behaving like key members of a lynch mob.

It's reasons like this I'll never have a paypal account or offer it as a means of payment on my site

So the moral is, if you are selling a big ticket item, don't accept paypal. There are many cases where it just gets reversed, and the buyer is always right.

When selling something like this, accept cashier checks, money orders, bitcoins, etc. You need need it to be non-reversible.

Even something counterfeit is worth something, so the seller is still entitled to sue (for the value of the counterfeit good). The object would then be re-valued during the trial and the seller liable for the full amount. Is this correct?

What the ffuuuuu.....

Things just keep getting weirder and weirder with PayPal. And more depressing.

One thing I don't understand is why didn't the buyer just contact the seller directly and try to return the violin for a full refund? Was it sold under the terms all sales final?

I feel like this would make a great MasterCard commercial.

I think this should be taken to Reddit to get PayPal to change their ways, and/or fundraise money to sue PayPal to change this practice.

I guess there's going to be a lot of counterfeit Roman-era coins that will have to be melted down for scrap!

This is a great case of a "picture is worth a thousand words." That picture is heart breaking...


its great that the internet opened up a global market, but the same rules apply

Caveat emptor, Caveat venditor

Startup idea: Offer insurance to protect sellers against PayPal's counterfeit item policy.

Congressional hearing please.

My only hope is that congress usually destroys instead of fixes whatever it sets it's eyes on, so PayPal would be doomed.

I will never have a PayPal account.

Interesting story, but how is this hacker news?

I can't believe the buyer didn't reflect over how awkwardly wrong it was to destroy someone else's unpaid-for property on the request of a third party (PayPal). Breathtaking stupidity.

The buyer thought he had been scammed and destroying the violin guaranteed his money back. What does he care?

He should care because if he did that I'd take his sorry ass to court for destruction of MY property.

You sound angry now. Imagine how angry you'll be when you lose your internet tough-guy lawsuit.


10.1 b 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.

(a) It sounds like Paypal made no attempt to verify the counterfeit claim at all, and would not have been qualified to do so even if they had examined the item themselves. Arguing that they had any sort of reasonable belief that it was a counterfeit would last about five seconds in a small claims court.

(b) Paypal's terms are probably irrelevant here anyway unless they owned either the money or the instrument. If they don't have a valid legal claim on them, then they have no right to tell anyone else what to do with them, regardless of any document their lawyers write.

(c) Even if the terms are relevant, this policy is so obviously unreasonable that you can't assume any court is going to automatically uphold the contractual term.

(d) This is all to protect Paypal, not the buyer. Notwithstanding any of Paypal's legalese, and obviously without knowing all the details, it seems very possible that a court would hold that a contract of sale existed here between the buyer and seller directly, and that as such the buyer who destroyed the instrument but did not pay for it is either in breach of contract (and thus owes the money anyway) or guilty of theft/criminal damage/other similar offences (in which case they are potentially in bigger trouble and might actually have police showing up on their doorstep, though even in the best case for them if the violin was as specified then they have conveniently accepted what a valid level of compensation would be).

(e) The fact that the destruction was done at Paypal's request is probably irrelevant following such a finding, other than to the extent that Paypal may have some sort of indirect liability for the damages in a civil suit, or that whichever idiot working for them sent the request might even be regarded as an accessory to a crime if someone in authority wanted to make a point. Actually, I imagine that would shake their staff down pretty quickly, since no amount of contractual anything from Paypal's legal team is going to protect the staff personally in that sort of situation.

Standard disclaimers apply: I'm not a lawyer, but I have found that if you actually get your day in court then usually the court has some amount of common sense and a much smaller amount of tolerance for lawyers obviously trying to intimidate other citizens with legalese. Internet tough-guy defences pointing at tricky legalese don't always end well, if the Internet tough-guy law suit actually reaches a court room. It's usually the cost/inconvenience/lack of understanding of bringing a small-scale lawsuit that protects the companies from wronged individuals, not the power of their obviously one-sided form contracts.

I don't think he's contemplating suing Paypal, but rather the fellow who destroyed the violin.

I don't know if such an act would be legally viable, but it certainly seems morally reasonable to me.

I don't see at all that they reasonably believed it was counterfeit. Unreasonably speculated, perhaps. Reasonably believed? Nope.

The key words here are "in our sole discretion". Those words are legal kryptonite.

You might want to add "IANAL".

$2500 is enough of a loss for some people to show up at the buyer's door; great lot a TOS does when police response is a good 8-12 minutes away.

(Yes, people have done physical violence against another for FAR less than $2500)

How do we know buyer did destroy the violin, and not some random shitty violin?

We don't, but the end result for the affected party (the seller) is the same - he lost $2500 worth of goods due to the buyer violating his property and material rights on request of PayPal.

I'm trying to ask "How do we know the buyer is not malicious? He buys a violin; disputes authenticity; destroys some stand in violin (keeping original); gets money back; sells original violin via different account; gets more money."

That's not something paypal can cope with, or is it?

THAT is a good point. I could see how that scenario can be abused - almost entirely because of PayPal having the "destroy counterfeit products" clause in the first place. Feels like this should be enough to put the law on their behinds to have this loophole plugged. Someone should bring this to the attention of the proper authorities.

Legally the person who sent them the property agreed "If PayPal decides it's counterfiet, then I'm OK with it being destroyed"

There's a picture of a broken violin? Then it must be true! Why would anyone ever break such a beautiful instrument unless Paypal had told them to!?

Yeah, Regretsy.com is a bastion of fine journalism.

I'd wait to get your panties in a knot until a real news site reports this.

Hard to understand the down voting.

Are people actually that stupid that they believe the story is true?

The story is self-consistent and it's consistent with PayPal's ToS. It's consistent with the destruction of other "counterfeit label" products.

Given PayPal's long history of nastiness I don't think there are many people remaining who would give them any benefit of the doubt.

The funny part of this story is in the comments section. A bizarre number of strangers seem to be "cut up" or "I'm crying" over an inanimate object that isn't even theirs!

You should really try to appreciate how a musician relates to their antique violin.

Would you not understand peoples' sadness if a collection of great paintings were destroyed in a museum fire? The sickest part of it was that it was destroyed intentionally by humans for no good reason at all.

Sure, this was not the most valuable piece in the world but there are definitely a finite number of them remaining. My guess is a lot of them are moving to collectors in Asia never to be seen again in the West. Who would have thought that would be the safest place for them?

Oooh this makes me sick.

You should really try to appreciate how a musician relates to their antique violin.

Their violin. Not some random stranger's on the Internet.

People are losing their lives and homes every day. An emotionally healthy and sane person's psychology allows one to not cry or get "cut up" about every such incident, while allowing one to feel empathy for the afflicted.

A strong attachment to one's own material possessions is unhealthy enough without taking on the emotional ownership of a third party's.

If only we were as compassionate towards, say, starving people.

The estimates I've seen for the total amount of humanitarian aid are on the order of $20bn/year. What's the world's annual violin-compassion budget?

(I think $20bn/year is way too low and the world would be a better place if we were more compassionate towards starving people and others in distress. But that's no reason at all not to care about old violins being destroyed.)

Puzzling. Do you think people would be less irate if, instead of a violin destroyed, it had been a starving person?

[dystopia]Imagine a starving person from Ethopia being sold on ebay and then destroyed because the buyer said the bought good actually had the Somalian nationality[/dystopia]

I smell a new Spielberg movie.

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