PayPal Under Fire for Purportedly Ordering Violin Destroyed

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PayPal, the online money transfer company seemingly everyone loves to hate, is once again facing a public relations embarrassment for reportedly instructing a customer to smash a violin in order to receive a refund.

A seller named Erica wrote into the Web site Regretsy.com — which had been having its own ongoing battle with PayPal — to share her own “heartbreaking experience.”

According to the post, Erica sold an old French violin to a buyer in Canada for $2,500, who then disputed the authenticity of the instrument.

“Rather than have the violin returned to me, PayPal made the buyer DESTROY the violin in order to get his money back …

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

Erica goes on to say that PayPal “100% defended their action.”

Under PayPal’s Buyer Protection terms it lists destruction of the sold item as one way to dispute resolution:

“For SNAD [Significantly Not as Described] Claims, PayPal may require you to ship the item back to the seller - or to PayPal - or to a third party at your expense, and to provide proof of delivery. Please take reasonable precautions in re-packing the item to reduce the risk of damage to the item during transit. PayPal may also require you to destroy the item and to provide evidence of its destruction.”

In an emailed statement PayPal declined to talk about his particular case, citing its privacy policy, but says, "We carefully review each case, and in general we may ask a buyer to destroy counterfeit goods if they supply signed evidence from a knowledgeable third party that the goods are indeed counterfeit. The reason why we reserve the option to ask the buyer to destroy the goods is that in many countries, including the US, it is a criminal offense to mail counterfeit goods back to a seller."

Of course, in PayPal’s Dispute Resolution protocol, this action is supposed to come long after you haven't been able "to resolve a problem directly with the seller,” which, according to Erica's note to Regretsy, seems to be a missing step.

It’s hard to tell in this incident, though, what is bringing more wrath down on PayPal: the fact that a violin, regardless of its label, was smashed; that the buyer received a refund while the seller is out the money and an instrument; or the lack of concern on PayPal’s part.

As John Biggs writes on TechCrunch:

“Erica might be a total faker. The buyer may be in the right. But it’s not Paypal’s job to appraise violins. My understanding is that Paypal is a proxy between two parties and a better solution would be to hold the money in escrow – less shipping – so the violin can come back to the owner and the cash then goes to the buyer."