Nutty art seller and fallout
September 13, 2010 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Paypal thing -- I tried to buy some art from an artist in Romania. He claimed he never received my money. I initiated a Paypal claim, which was resolved in my favor. But I'm still kind of afraid of the guy.

I tried to buy some art I saw online from an artist in Romania. Communication was difficult because of the language barrier, but he spoke some English and seemed like a straight up guy, so I went ahead and sent him a payment using Paypal. I thought it would the the simplest way to pay the guy, and he had no other suggestions around how to conduct our transaction.

It kind of turned into a mess -- the guy was complaining right out of the gate. First, it had cost him 75 euros to open a Paypal account (why? he didn't explain). Also, although I made my payment and Paypal showed that the balance had left my account and been sent to him, he said his account was frozen and that he was unable to access the 250 euros.

Email after email between me and this guy, and every time he sent me a message it was : "What should I do now? Why can't I get the money? They sent me this message, now what?" And he's also sending me tons of data about his bank account numbers and all this other stuff I don't want or need.

SO I'm going nuts. Josef (let's call him) is asking me stuff about Paypal I can't answer. I sort of lost my cool -- told him I couldn't answer his questions because I wasn't a Paypal employee. The guy was really guilting me, presenting himself as the wounded party. I had to remind him that I was the one who was out 250 euros -- 326 American dollars or so -- and that I was really annoyed!

He backed down a little after I got upset, or so it seemed. But we still couldn't iron it out, so I had to initiate a Paypal claim. I don't like the confrontational aspect of that, but Paypal only offers two choices for the basis of a dispute: you're filing a claim because you didn't receive an item, or you're filing a claim because you didn't get paid for something you sold. There wasn't any choice for: "The seller can't access the money I sent. Stop the presses, I don't want the item anymore, just give me my money back, this is ridiculous."

So I had to file a claim complaining that my art was never sent. So then the artist emails me again, saying he has a tracking number for me. I'm freaking out, thinking, great, now he's sent me the art, and he'll be dunning me for it AGAIN. I mean what if he continues to claim that I haven't paid him (essentially), and I have the art in my possession now? Argh! I emailed him and told him not to send me anything. But it might be too late.

To their credit, Paypal reviewed the situation and credited my money back today. So far so good. But now I'm worried about my next communication from Josef. Early on, I rashly indicated that I'd give him the 75 euros, since it had cost him money to open his Paypal account. He thought it was nice that I had offered, and now I'm thinking I must have been crazy to do that. So I assume he's holding me to that, and that I owe him 75 euros.

I'm also afraid that he's going to be really teed that I don't want the art anymore. I'm just spooked by how weird this whole thing was. It just should not have been this difficult. I still have no idea why Josef wasn't able to access the payment I sent him. He could never explain, and neither did Paypal. So I can't possibly risk another crazy-go-nuts transaction like what I just went through. And, I'm not sure he's aboveboard. I mean I think he is, but I just don't know. And I don't have the nerves to go through this again.

So I'm afraid of the guy. What if he goes after me for having broken a verbal promise to buy his art? Am I legally obligated to go through with the purchase?

BTW - I've purchased things before using Paypal from people who weren't in the States. Never had a problem like this until now.
posted by frosty_hut to Society & Culture (18 answers total)
Sounds like he was trying to scam you. Don't pay the $75 unless he proves he was made to pay that by PayPal Eastern Bloc, and then only because you agreed to.
posted by dance at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2010

Pay him nothing- anything you said you'd pay early in the transaction was contingent on the transaction going well, which it didn't. Never contact him again, and ignore all future communication. There's nothing to be afraid of.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:38 PM on September 13, 2010 [11 favorites]

Even if you are legally obligated to buy the art or pay the 75 euros, how is he going to get them from you...sue you in Romania? I wouldn't sweat it because his options for collecting from you seem pretty small.

That said, if you are really concerned that PayPal might ding you, close your account.
posted by murrey at 12:39 PM on September 13, 2010

Doesn't smell like a scam to me - if he was trying to scam you, he would have had suggestions about how you could pay him, instead of waiting for you to initiate a Paypal transaction.

I am not a lawyer of any sort, but I don't know how this guy would reasonably do anything to you if you simply shipped the art back to him. He can't even figure out PayPal. Even if you were both American I don't think you'd be legally obligated to buy anything just based on a verbal contract - it's not as if he custom made the art for you and then you refused to pay.
posted by desjardins at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Send the art back, forget about the guy. It's simply more trouble than it's worth.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on September 13, 2010

The best response: "I don't respond to threats."

Say it to yourself first until it takes hold.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:55 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are not legally obligated to give him anything. If the art arrives (it won't) don't even accept it. Immediately return to sender, which you can do by refusing delivery. If for some reason you can't refuse delivery, simply mail it back unopened. Don't speak to him any more, and consider blocking all email communication from his address.

He's trying to bully you. He won't come after you. He just wants to intimidate you into giving him things. If you stop speaking with him altogether the problem will go away. He has probably recognized that he can cause you enough stress to cause you to act rationally. At this point you have to consider that strategy and act against it. You do so by preventing him from being able to cause you stress in the first place. So cut off contact. Then you're ok and he goes away.
posted by shmegegge at 1:01 PM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

to cause you to act IRrationally.
posted by shmegegge at 1:01 PM on September 13, 2010

So then the artist emails me again, saying he has a tracking number for me. I'm freaking out, thinking, great, now he's sent me the art, and he'll be dunning me for it AGAIN. I mean what if he continues to claim that I haven't paid him (essentially), and I have the art in my possession now?

If it comes using a method where you have to sign for it to receive the package, just refuse delivery and they will return it. Otherwise pay to ship it back to him.

Am I legally obligated to go through with the purchase?

The legal obligations are pretty much academic at this point because it's extremely unlikely that this will end up in court. PayPal's claims process is designed to resolve these sorts of disputes without involving an international court case. If you paid via a credit card, disputing the credit card charge directly may be an even easier way to reverse the charge (not sure if PayPal would like you doing that very much though). If you end up with your money back and he ends up with the painting that should pretty much be the end of it. Offering to pay the 75 euro PayPal sign up fee (which sounds fishy) was probably a dumb move on your part, that's more of an issue between the artist and PayPal. It sucks if he's out 75 euros at the end of this, but it's not really reasonable for you to pay it for him when the deal fell through and you don't know for sure that it's not a big scam.

What if he goes after me for having broken a verbal promise to buy his art?

Goes after you how exactly? If this was in the US and you lived near each other he could try suing you in small claims court, put I doubt he would get much out of that even if it was an option. And he's probably not going to book a flight to the US to come beat you up or something. I don't know if this artist has a lot of experience selling stuff online, but a deal falling through like this is annoying but not exactly enough to make an international incident over.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:02 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for these great suggestions guys!

I forgot to add that it's kind of sticky, because Josef is a participant on an art forum where we both post our work. I really love the site and forum, and it's a great way to get exposure and ideas and meet other artists trying to do what I do. I could defriend him on the site or block him, maybe, depending on their software I suppose. I don't want to let him drive me away from the community though, because I enjoy it so much :)
posted by frosty_hut at 1:03 PM on September 13, 2010

Re. your forum situation:

Laterally thinking, maybe you could (without naming anybody) post something on your forum about the situation you found yourself in, phrased as neutrally as possible and without making it sound like anyone involved was less than scrupulous and you were both caught up in a Bad System.

Ask if anyone has had similar difficulties and about better methods than PayPal to handle such transactions in the future.

This clearly establishes you as a good-faith guy, and mitigates any damage that can be done if the other party starts talking trash: you have an early, established, provable (kinda) record of what happened and what went wrong, you're taking pains not to blame him for the badness in public, and looking for better ways to proceed for the future. If he decides to drag mud around on your valued community forum, don't reply and just point people to the very neutral, very nice description of how two good people can get fouled up by the weird vagaries of international finance.

This only works if you try hard to make it sound like you're both good-faith actors, and the horrors of The System just tired you out. If he decides to get nasty, and was acting in bad faith, that'll be self-apparent soon enough.
posted by Shepherd at 1:10 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

when i worked with romanian coders, it wasn't possible to use PayPal. I had to use Western Union to send them money.
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:10 PM on September 13, 2010

Response by poster: Shepherd, good idea about dealing with the forum! I like it.

elle.jeezy - Wow, that would explain it. Josef sent me a screenshot of his Paypal page, and there was the word "held" after the payment I made. So I think he's aboveboard. (Of course, he still may be nutty :) )
posted by frosty_hut at 1:18 PM on September 13, 2010

If you decide to post about the transaction on the forum make sure that it is allowed by the rules and is a part of the forum culture. A forum I frequent has rules against complaining about sales transactions if you know that the other party is also on that forum.

also based on what elle says about payments to Romania remember that you'll have no protection if you use Western Union.
posted by oneear at 1:19 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Taking Sheperd's example you could even post it as a question. It seems the general problem is that you have artists or sellers who have language and technical barriers to selling their stuff on the Internet, and how do you guys deal with this? Maybe furthermore it points to a need for an internationalized website to provide a consistent way to sell and buy this art. There ain't half been some clever businesses built upon providing this kind of techno-stepstool.
posted by rhizome at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add that Paypal has different rules based on the laws of different countries and it isn't always straightforward to setup a Paypal account so that you can get your money out.

Having said that, I can imagine that perhaps a 75 euro deposit is needed to open a bank account linked to your Paypal account, but would be surprised if there was a fee of 75 euros.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for these additional replies, I appreciate it! It's looking more like Josef was probably legitimately unable to get my payment. I feel better!

Gomez, ah, good point. He wouldn't be out any money in that case. I'm kind of scratching my head over why he didn't have a bank account already (he's an older guy, an established artist in Romania) but maybe they do things differently there...

Thank you all again so much :)
posted by frosty_hut at 3:40 PM on September 13, 2010

It looks like you're coming to this conclusion yourself, but I just want to reinforce: this does not sound like a scam to me at all. Your art friend is probably very disappointed to lose the sale, and possibly upset too. I would not discontinue communication, especially since he is also a forum contact.

Just reiterate that the whole deal went pear-shaped for both of you and wish him a swift buyer for the piece. ;P

If you wind up deciding he's completely honest, depending on your character and finances, I would even consider offering him the 75 euro fee, if you can verify that there really was one (as opposed to a deposit). As an artist yourself, you can probably imagine how it'd feel to not only lose a sale, but also be out a chunk of your next.
posted by gilrain at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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