How do I sue someone in small claims court across state lines?
January 21, 2008 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Despite my very best efforts, I got scammed on eBay. Now my only recourse is to sue someone who lives in Chicago, while I live in DC. I know YANML, but can people provide me with an idea of how difficult and expensive this might be? I would need to be able to subpoena information from a couple of companies.

I suspect it would be a small claims issue, since the value of the item was about $540. So questions: does small claims court work across state lines? Would I need to file in DC to be able to subpoena things from companies (PayPal, and if I could his cell phone company to show that he was using the phone on their network) and then file in Chicago? Or if I filed in DC, would they have to respond to me here? Would I be able to sue for my costs, including travel? If I needed a lawyer, could I sue for legal fees? If I won, how could I make the guy pay? In general, since I have no idea what to do or how to do it, how would I proceed myself, and what is the cheapest way to go?

I know you are not my lawyer, and I accept that this is not legal advice.
posted by procrastination to Law & Government (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing for you to do is to contact the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2008

If he did send the payment, it cleared, and you sent the item, why not resolve it with Paypal? I'm assuming he cancelled the payment, show Paypal the tracking number that shows the package being sent and being delivered.
posted by mphuie at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2008

mphuie, procrastination outlines all their steps taken in the thread linked to.
posted by Monday at 4:07 PM on January 21, 2008

I read somewhere the other day (I think it was here actually) about a guy getting scammed on ebay. He filed a report with his and their police department and (I believe) they arrested the guy.
posted by Sufi at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2008

I got scammed on ebay once too. Apparently what some people do is they'll start an ebay account, they'll sell a bunch of stuff and troll for good feedback for a while to build a sense of trust... and then in one fell swoop they'll sell thousands of dollars of stuff they have no intention of actually delivering and skip off with the profit. I got caught up in this when I needed some software for work so I bought it on ebay and a month later I got a package of blank discs sent from a Mailboxes Etc. that was nowhere near where the seller was supposed to live (I don't know why they even bothered sending anything). When I called the phone number ebay gave me for the seller, it was fake. I looked up the address I was given and it didn't exist.

Paypal reimbursed me for only a small portion because the person cleared out their bank account, and they were super uncooperative with helping me any further. They wouldn't give me any help or information and it felt like they were actually protecting the thieves. I was horrified. Ebay told me to file a police report and that was the only way PayPal would give access to the information about the person. So I did, and the police called. And PayPal wouldn't cooperate with them either so the police just shrugged their shoulders. So I got screwed and I learned a big lesson.

This was in 2006. I don't know if they're any better now.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:51 PM on January 21, 2008

Wow -- Paypal actually allows users to to cancel a payment that they've already made? That's scary. How on earth do you avoid that?
posted by diastematic at 5:04 PM on January 21, 2008

This is a little different approach, but you might be able to report the phone as stolen. I would talk to either your local police or the police in the scammer's locale to see how this works. Then you'd report it to your cell carrier.

Stolen mobile phones ESN's (Electronic Serial Number in mobile lingo) all go into a database. This will raise a red flag with the carrier that the scammer's using.

I doubt this will send a SWAT team through his door, but it might be somewhat effective.

Good luck!
posted by altcountryman at 5:52 PM on January 21, 2008

Wait. I'm sorry. Now I'm confused. Were you the buyer or the seller?
posted by miss lynnster at 5:53 PM on January 21, 2008

miss lynster: OP was the seller. Full story summarized here
posted by special-k at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2008

Not to turn this into "oh noes ebay" but I had paypal fail me as well. There is really no protection. I had to get a police report (locally in MN) about a guy ripping me off that is still a ebay power seller in idaho and they never did anything for me for $65.
posted by thilmony at 7:20 PM on January 21, 2008

You don't have an open-and-shut case. Spending more money on this would be an expensive gamble. You would probably have better odds at a casino.
posted by grouse at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2008

Mail fraud, across state lines?
What about filing a complaint here:
Send him a certified copy of the complaint?

I am not a lawyer but try searching eBay seller forums & ask advice there on how to get your money back. Can you file a complaint with eBay as well? Also, isn't the guy CLEARLY lying again if his PayPal complaint said the phone was purple, and the phone he "returned" to you was gold? Credit card fraud too..

The buyer initially filed a claim that the very nice new cellphone I sent him as different in that it was black, not purple, and was significantly damaged, which it wasn't.

An officer came pretty quickly, and I received and opened the box in front of him. Sure enough, there was a smashed gold cellphone inside

That's where I'd start - send PayPal the copy of the buyer's complaint again highlighting what he said & show police report about the GOLD phone he obviously fraudulently returned.
posted by citron at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2008

Also what about writing a big post to Consumerist and harassing the heck out of PayPal and eBay over it.
posted by citron at 10:08 AM on January 22, 2008

isn't the guy CLEARLY lying again if his PayPal complaint said the phone was purple, and the phone he "returned" to you was gold?

I missed that detail. That makes your case a lot better than I was thinking.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on January 22, 2008

Excuse me, I misread too, I guess the buyer claimed the phone was black, not purple. But OK.. so we have his official complaint stating he received a black phone, and the returned package opened in the presence of a police officer with a gold phone in it & a police report stating as much..
posted by citron at 10:14 AM on January 22, 2008

Response by poster: Ok, a follow up. I did some research, and apparently it is a real pain to do interstate small-claims court suits. I would have to file and appear in Chicago, and even if I won and got expenses, I would need to identify his assets to be able to recoup anything. I am pissed enough that I would gladly spend a few hundred dollars to make his life miserable, but it doesn't seem likely enough that I really accomplish that.

My hope was that I could sue locally to get a subpoena that I could use to get his account data from his cell provider including which phones were used, by IEMI number. That would show that he had the phone I sold him. Unfortunately, it is a GSM phone and they only track them by SIM number, which I don't have. This unfortunately keeps your great idea, altcountryman, from working by reporting it stolen as well. My feeling is that without that evidence, even though I have his conflicting statements and the police report, is that I don't have a rock solid case.

So I filed complaints with the postal service and the FTC, since he used a "company" name in the transaction. I would post it, but I don't want google to pick it up and lead him to these questions. I also called the local police where he lives, and spoke with the officer in charge of consumer fraud. I gave him all the information and he called the house. The scammer is a kid of about 19 or 20 who lives with his parents, so I am vaguely hopeful his parents don't know what he was doing and won't be happy to hear from the officer.

I am also going to send a complaint again to PayPal, because they have some appeal process, but at this point I just don't think they will do anything. Now that I know what to look for I have found many other examples of this kind of fraud. I think they realize they can't do much about it, so they spend as little time as possible on it to keep their costs low.

Thanks for the answers. Not much to do in this case.

(Oh, and yes. I was the seller. I sent him a nice purple phone. He complained I sent him a broken black one. He sent a broken gold one back. I do forensics, and attempted to extract data from the phone, but it was completely dead.)
posted by procrastination at 2:10 PM on January 22, 2008

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