How do I get help with mail fraud?
January 5, 2014 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I sold an item on Amazon and it went south.

I sold an item on Amazon after using the "do you have one of these to sell" button. The buyer asked for a return after a week saying that they bought the wrong model, which I felt was reasonable and granted the refund. The item is very heavy and needs ~$70 for shipping costs, so i sent a money order to the buyer in that amount to cover the return costs, as amazon does not cover this cost (nor does it reasonably cover the original shipping cost, but that's another matter altogether.)

The buyer received the money order, cashed it, then never sent the item back. After repeated emails, the buyer finally responds with: "I received the money order and cashed it. I'll send you the cash back in about two weeks, but I'm not shipping the item back."

I asked for further clarification from the buyer, because it could mean one of two things:

1) Buyer is returning the money order amount back, and nothing else
2) Buyer was able to use the item after all, and is returning the money order amount and original purchase amount.

My question is thus: If the scenario ends up being #1, with whom do I file a complaint and how do I force buyer to pay up or return the item? (Amazon is not the answer, they do not care; I have already attempted to sort this out through Amazon, to no avail.)

I am in Arizona, the buyer is in New York.

Thank You.
posted by MansRiot to Law & Government (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What does Amazon say?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


(Amazon is not the answer, they do not care; I have already attempted to sort this out through Amazon, to no avail.)

I would be interested to know what steps the OP took with Amazon and exactly what they said, because I've never heard of them "not caring" about a problem involving sales on their site.
posted by jayder at 9:32 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is the response I received from amazon:

"Once an order is refunded, we are unable to reverse the refund and the transaction is considered closed. We encourage you to contact the buyer and make appropriate arrangements regarding the transaction."
posted by MansRiot at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2014

I would recommend speaking to a person at Amazon directly. I am sure this is not the first time that this has happened and escalating to a second level customer service person may yield a more comprehensive response.

You can file a small claims action in NY remotely, and travel to fight the case. I'm goofed on for recommending it, but see if you can't get onto People's Court, they'll pay your way there and pay the judgement when you win.

I'd at least file the case and have the guy served.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Where's the buyer? It might be worth sending documentation to his / her local police department and prosecutor's office. Copy the buyer on the letter or email. That might be all it takes.
posted by mibo at 10:01 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would also be surprised if calling Amazon doesn't help you at all, but if it doesn't, you might try tweeting at them. I have gotten customer service results from Twitter that I haven't from more standard channels.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2014

IANAL. Scenario #1 would seem to me to constitute larceny, or some other form of theft (and possibly fraud). You have written evidence (1) that the buyer admitted that it was his mistake in ordering the product, (2) that you made an effort to allow him to return the product (including paying shipping costs, which is generous), and (3) that the buyer now intends to keep the product for which he has received a refund.

I would contact your local police department and ask their advice on how to proceed. You might also check with the US Postal Inspection Service. You would certainly have grounds for a small claims case (if the value of the item is small enough for the NY jurisdiction), but this might also be a criminal matter.

On preview: Again, IANAL, but I would not do what mibo suggests and attempt to intimidate the buyer, without first consulting with a lawyer. It's one thing to say, "Hey, I'm out both my item and my money; you have both. That doesn't seem fair to me, and if you don't return one or the other, I'll have to look into remedies, including asking the police about this." That's a fair statement of your position. It's a totally different thing to report the issue to the police and copy the buyer in on it, because in that case you have taken action before a final attempt at an amical resolution.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:08 AM on January 5, 2014

You screwed up by sending anything before getting the product back. $70 is not worth your time, and the police will not be able to do anything. Amazon will most likely not care. Chalk it up to a lesson learned. I would stick to Craigslist or eBay in future. Sorry.
posted by Slinga at 10:16 AM on January 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

Get in touch with your state attorney general.
Shake it up and pour it out. Hear what they have to say.
posted by Pudhoho at 10:37 AM on January 5, 2014

I don't really see this as a case of fraud. Generally, fraud is where a person misrepresents presently existing facts, not their intentions of future action.

The buyer said he intended to ship the item back, and you advanced him the money to do that (very bad move on your part). He then failed to follow through on what he said he would do.

Law enforcement will not touch this. A state attorney general will not touch this. Unless you can definitively prove that he never had an intention to send the item back (and no, you can't prove that), then you do not have a criminal case or even a civil fraud cause of action. This is a broken promise. Perhaps you could recover it in small claims court, but you'd spend far more time and money than the $70 you're trying to recover.

So, sorry, but this is just something you need to forget about and move on.
posted by jayder at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It went south with the "I decided to send a money order," which was a thing you decided to do on your own and which took you outside the usual channels for these sorts of things. Amazon is not going to involve themselves because Amazon transactions don't involve sending money orders; this is something you did yourself outside of Amazon, if that follows? It is reasonable that they are not mediating this; this was something you did outside of their rules.

Small claims is a lengthy process with fees associated. You didn't quite know how to sell on-line, you got ripped off, the amount isn't enough to interest law enforcement, warnings re. don't do what you just did are pretty ubiquitous. Here is Amazon's page on managing returns. On refunding. It is bizarre that you took it on yourself to incur the return shipping cost for a buyer's mistake -- it's not at all clear how it ever seemed like a good reason to send a stranger $70?

I suspect the outcome here will be (3) buyer noticed you had made a mistake with sending him a $70 money order, has no intention of ever dealing with you again, will keep merchandise and the $70. Lousy, but fortunately not a massive hit. Sorry.
posted by kmennie at 11:09 AM on January 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Amazon has policies for this. Their policies say you don't pay return shipping for buyers who make a mistake; you don't issue a refund for the item until the item is in your hands (unless you don't want the item); and the refund for the item itself can't be reversed without permission from the buyer. Amazon can't do anything for you that they already haven't tried to do for you (by having those first two policies in place to protect you from this happening); more than that, Amazon's seller protection policies are essentially "here's how to avoid upsetting a buyer." If you had used Paypal to credit the return shipping, you likely could have filed a dispute for the $70 through Paypal. This is why Paypal is so popular and so widely used--and money orders are, frankly, not. All of this together makes me hesitant to tell you to go to the wall with this.

You can file a police report (take the e-mails, the money order receipt, proof that the guy cashed it, and a copy of the listing) and hope for the best. I think your success here depends on the size of the cities where you both live; my local small-town PD (and I know these guys personally) would look at me and say, "Well, what do you want us to do?" YMMV, clearly. You can file a lawsuit, but there are filing and travel fees associated with that, and someone who would rip you off this way might not even show up for Court, let alone satisfy the judgment. It would be up to you, or your attorney (there's another fee), to pursue the unsatisified judgment. (I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Just my experience.)

Weigh the value of the item+$70 against the time and money involved in proceeding further. At the end of the day, I don't think you're going to see the item/$70 again, and I think you've learned a very hard lesson.
posted by coast99 at 11:11 AM on January 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm confused why you're upset, unless you actually send $70 plus the cost of the item back to the buyer. Because either way theoretically you would sell the item for the same amount as before and be out $70.

Maybe they simply decided since you were so nice about it they want to go ahead and keep it and not get the item refunded, and not only that but mail you the shipping charges back.

Maybe they're screwing you over but again, unless you actually sent back more than $70, I'm not sure how.
posted by cacao at 11:16 AM on January 5, 2014

This isn't necessarily malicious on the part of the buyer, could be just laziness. I'm saying this as a person who returned a pair of shoes on day 364 of the 365 day return window. The buyer offered to return the money, give them a chance to make it right. Constant emails are going to make the buyer hate you and want to keep your money just because, especially if the buyer is well intentioned and you're accusing them of fraud.
posted by hamsterdam at 11:38 AM on January 5, 2014

I'm confused why you're upset, unless you actually send $70 plus the cost of the item back to the buyer.

OP said "which I felt was reasonable and granted the refund". That indicates to me that OP actually sent this person his money back plus another $70 which obviously was a mistake. So right now, unless I am misunderstanding the situation, the buyer has both the item and the money for the item plus an additional $70!

OP: can you confirm that you refunded the price of the item before the buyer sent the item back?
posted by Justinian at 11:56 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

People who are suggesting you just eat the cost are ignoring the fact that we don't know the value of the item itself. The OP isn't out just $70; s/he is out the price of the item, which was obviously refunded, per Item 2 in this comment in the Ask:

it could mean one of two things:

1) Buyer is returning the money order amount back, and nothing else
2) Buyer was able to use the item after all, and is returning the money order amount and original purchase amount.

Can you tell us, OP, how much dough you are out at this point? That might help guide answers.
posted by nacho fries at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2014

I would definitely escalate with Amazon. It has been my experience that running your yapper up the food chain gets results, even if those results take a while to materialize.

This sucks for you, obviously. I don't think that you should just let this guy go. He exploited you, and it's the principle of the thing. It's too early in the process to cut your losses, in my opinion. Dial Amazon, ask for a supervisor, activate speakerphone, and cook something to eat while you're on hold. Good luck!
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:40 PM on January 5, 2014

Sorry for the delayed response.

When I was prompted by the amazon system, after the buyer asked for a refund, I do not remember being given the option to exclude shipping from the refund; it seemed a simple process and the thought to withhold any refund until the item was returned hadn't crossed my mind, which is all too clear now a very naive move on my part. Regardless of my inexperience at the time, the matter at hand now is how to move forward if indeed scenario #1 is the outcome.

I have yet to get an answer from the buyer about clarifying their last response.

The item is worth ~$1,400 new and I sold it used for $950, a used price that local shops, craigslist ads, and amazon itself agree on.
posted by MansRiot at 5:02 PM on January 5, 2014

For those of you who are advising the OP to pursue this with Amazon, my question is, what exactly can Amazon do here that would be helpful to the OP?
posted by merejane at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If scenario 1 is true: You have to notify the buyer that if they intend to keep the item, the buyer must either a) contact Amazon customer service and have them re-charge the buyer's card for it, or b) send you a check for the amount. Give the buyer a due date (maybe 14 days from your notice), after which you will be compelled to take other action. Figure out exactly what the buyer has to do to contact Amazon referencing this order, so that you can give step by step instructions that improve your chances of getting your money. Since Amazon policy says that the only time a seller should prematurely issue a refund is if they don't care about getting the item back, you have tied yourself up a bit.
posted by zennie at 6:29 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, regarding dates, best to contact Amazon and make sure there are no limits for re-charging that you are not aware of.
posted by zennie at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2014

Thanks for the update. Rather than waiting for him to clarify, saying he wants do the wrong thing (Option 1), take action and tell him what he NEEDS to do (Option 2), and give him a reasonable timeframe to do the right thing.

Contact the "buyer" in writing, and set out your terms, in polite but no-nonsense language:

"Per your response, since you will be keeping the item, please remit payment by (date) in the amount of (purchase price + shipping reimbursement), via money order."

While you await his response, do some research on what your legal options are, and the costs of those options.
posted by nacho fries at 7:45 PM on January 5, 2014

ok, crazy idea: have a kind askme person go to this person's house (maybe they should go with someone else) and then pick it up along with the $70 dollars. Phrase it as a convenience to the person, and say it was a friend coming by who lives in the same town. I'd imagine they'd have more trouble not returning something when you think someone actually has the physical capability to come to my door. It sounds scary even though obviously you wouldn't do it in any scary kind of way.

This is if what nacho fries suggests doesn't get you a response.
posted by cacao at 8:05 PM on January 5, 2014

ok, crazy idea: have a kind askme person go to this person's house

Or courier service (though you can still say "a friend").

It does seem like the person who did this, as likely as not, is a meek little troll who doesn't have his shit together enough to follow through, and a threat of an actual person showing up could shake out your money or item.
posted by jayder at 8:34 PM on January 5, 2014

The buyer responded that they are opting for #1. I have opened a ticket with Amazon through my seller account and will escalate it to a phone call after work. I will update when more is known, and will also be considering the other options given.
posted by MansRiot at 8:22 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

So they're essentially just stealing your item? That's crazy. Why return your shipping money at all, then?
posted by Justinian at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2014

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