Bid, pay, and wait. Yep, that’s exactly what I did after winning a heated eBay auction on a cool pair of Levi’s for my hubby. As he’s a slim-built 6 foot tall fellow, I was thrilled to be the winning bidder on these jazzy jeans and excited to see my boy’s buns decked out in the prized denim.

And so I waited. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Nothing. I figured the package was delayed since the sale was international, and holiday parcel delivery was slow. Oh well, no present under the tree for my sweetie. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

The days quickly turned into weeks, and still no lovely Levi’s in the mail. Were the jeans stuck in customs? Did they get lost in the mail? Crap, how long ago did I win that auction? I checked My eBay Summary page for the auction details and counted back the days, all 47 of ’em.

Now, you could call me many things at this point. Some would say I’m the world’s most trusting and patient eBayer on the planet. Others would say I’m a sucker who’s been had. And you’d all be right.

Despite never receiving my swanky Levi’s from a well-rated seller, I’ve been a happy eBay buyer for over ten years. During this time I’ve bought a variety of new and used goods from a slew of sellers at excellent prices, and have only been shipped counterfeit or misrepresented merchandise once.

The case of the lost Levi’s stunk of fraud though, so I decided to hit up eBay’s Resolution Center to report the stench and recoup my costs. Here are the five steps eBay recommends to defrauded buyers, and the gotchas that will cost you:

Step One: Contact the seller. Be nice.

When my jeans failed to materialize, I messaged my seller through the auction description page and left a little disgruntled digital dirt. It’s important to resist communicating via private email even if you have the seller’s address — eBay requires that both parties attempt an email resolution before opening a case, and leaving proof within the eBay system is therefore wise.

Also, be nice! A number of things can go wrong with an eBay transaction, and assuming that your seller is an a$$ (and calling them such via email) could hinder your case. Besides, many sellers are keen on keeping negative feedback from downgrading their reputation, so they’ll often offer a refund if an item fails to match the auction description, turns out to be flawed, or is proven counterfeit.

I sent three messages to my Levi’s seller. Each went without a reply. Bummer.

Step Two: File a report with PayPal or eBay.

I get a little grumpy when it comes to paying for eBay purchases — it seems that PayPal, a wholly-owned subsidiary of eBay, is the preferred payment method of sellers. And with the stiff rules for international payments I’m often stuck using PayPal on eBay.

PayPal users defrauded of funds can report grievances through the PayPal Buyer Protection Program. For all other payment methods, head on over to the eBay Buyer Protection Program to lodge your complaint. I’ve had very mixed results using both programs, mostly ’cause the rules are strict. But these rules are key:

  1. You must first attempt to resolve the problem with the seller through eBay’s messaging system.
  2. Only eligible purchases are protected — items like cars and real estate are not covered under either program.
  3. You must open a case no later than 45 calendar days from the date of your payment.

The final point is the kicker — wait longer than 45 days to file a complaint and you won’t recover a cent. Since my jeans auction was 47 days old, I didn’t qualify for buyer protection under either program.

Step Three: Call your credit card company.

Savvy eBay shoppers know that paying with a credit card may offer the best buyer protection on the planet. So if you paid for your eBay purchase with plastic, contact your credit card issuer as soon as possible to report the fraud. Depending on your cardholder agreement, you may have up to 30 days from the statement date to recover your funds.

Tip: Using a credit card to fund a PayPal purchase may offer the best buyer protection possible. If you’re unable to exercise your chargeback rights directly with your credit issuer, go ahead and escalate your dispute by filing a claim under the PayPal Protection Program. You can’t pursue both concurrently or double dip, so pick your best option first — it only takes one program to recover your defrauded funds.

Step Four: Contact the Feds.

When you’ve passed the 45 day buyer protection limit and your credit card issuer sticks you with the purchase, eBay customer service will send you to your federal fraud agency to file a formal complaint. Fun stuff, right?

    Americans: Depending on your location within the States, eBay may send you to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 works in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
  • Canadians: Regardless of your province, eBay routinely refers Canucks to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) to report internet crime. The CAFC is run jointly by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Competition Bureau, and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

Yeah, it’s a lot of acronyms to stomach if you’ve lost under $100 on your failed eBay transaction. But if you’ve gone this route I’d love to hear from you!

Step Five: Go ahead, leave negative feedback!

Now’s the time to make your mark and warn fellow eBayers about the dodgy seller by leaving negative feedback. Keep it professional, terse, and to the point though — these comments are publicly displayed on eBay and catty comments may reflect poorly on your own reputation. And before dropping a vicious bomb on a boutique or store, be sure the negative feedback is truly well deserved — negative feedback can hurt the seller’s reputation and harm their online auction business, especially if it’s unwarranted.

So what happened with my jeans?

I may have won the auction but I lost every penny thanks to a scammy highly-rated eBay ‘powerseller’. My loss of around $60 wasn’t catastrophic by any means, but it sure changed the way I charge my eBay purchases. Today I always pay for online purchases with my credit card and never use the balance in my PayPal account — my credit issuer has proven to be more reliable than eBay’s so-called protection programs. And I never buy a pair of jeans online unless I’ve consulted with the AuthenticForum first — these guys can spot a fake pair of denim from just a simple photograph!

Your Thoughts: Have all your eBay purchases been positive? Please do share your stories!