Sunday, May 3, 2015

Catching A Scammer on Ebay Using Statement Analysis

I was recently contacted by someone who asked for help for his small family business on Ebay.  He felt he might be being scammed and wanted to know if I could help by analyzing the short emails.

The EBay Scam:  Partial Refunds Through 'Blackmail' or coercion.

The Target:  Sellers or Businesses with 100% Feedback, with 'lesser' volume.  This means that a single negative feedback could impact sales, while a large business with thousands of feedbacks per year, will have the percentage barely budge from 100% to 99.9% on a single negative feedback.

The scam:  "I got the item, but it looks a bit damaged.  I'd like to keep it though, its just not worth it, however."

The seller now knows what could happen if he does not offer partial refund and than says, "Okay, I'm sorry.  I can refund you $10 of the money.  Please just leave positive feedback, ok?"

The scammer knows he cannot directly blackmail with a threat that says, "give me $10 or I will post negative feedback" no more than a company,  struggling with the State Departments regulations, paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a one hour speech, and made a $2 million dollar contribution to the Clinton Foundation and had their State Department issue resolved ever said, "I'll give you and your wife this, and you will have her do that!."

It's understood, though not said outright.

                                            The Specific Ebay Scammer Scenario:

The seller sold a musical instrument:  Electric guitar.  The seller (family business) has several hundreds of positive feedbacks, equaling 100%.  This has been for more than 13 years of solid quality service; i.e., honesty and respectful communication.

He asked me to look at the emails regarding the transaction where he sold to a re-seller.  This means the buyer plans to "flip" the item.  The buyer offered him 50% off the asking price, which he then countered and sold for 30% off.  I don't know electric guitars, but in looking at similar used products, he gave the buyer a great deal.

The answer comes in analysis of short emails.

I.  Email #1

"Hey, make sure you pack it really good, man!"

The timing was of concern:  He sent this email the day after shipping, therefore, he knew it had already left.

This was unnecessary for two reasons:

1.  The family business that sold it has 100% for many years and knows how to pack things.
2.  Statement Analysis:  If we assume that as a re-seller, he looked at the tracking number and saw it was shipped, the email itself is "unnecessary", therefore, making it "doubly important."

I said, "If he did not click on the link for tracking, it is not that sensitive.  Yes, he could see that you had 100% feedback, but if he is just the worrying type, it ends there.  However, if he did click on the link to USPS, which is my belief given his experience, it is utterly unnecessary words therefore, as being "doubly important" I believe:

he is projecting his plans here.  He is tipping his hat.

I wrote:  "Expect a claim of minor damage with the expectation that you will give him a refund of, let's say, $50 or so."

This is the scam.

The scammer knows that the seller wants to protect his reputation and will complain in order to get a few dollars back.  When a re-seller does this, it adds up, but even a "private thief" gets addicted to "winning", that is, stealing from others.  One $10 success leads to another to another to another.

I also said that "man" is informal, and not business like, and of concern.

(I think the Seller thought I was a bit too suspicious at first.   I told him that if he saw the tracking, this was deliberate and reiterated my prediction:  he is going to say something went wrong with  your packing and he wants to 'return' it, and even though you have a NO RETURN policy, he doesn't really want to return it but wants money back and may even say its expensive to ship it back.)

Email #2:

"Where is it???  Man, this is taking a long time!"

Concern:  This email was sent on the day of delivery where, at 7:50AM, USPS updated to say "Out for Delivery" at the location.

He confirmed that the email was sent at or near 10:30AM local time.  (both times were local)  He was certain.

I said that this was a concern. "Man" is not respectful.  The buyer is a business who deals with some very expensive audio equipment and a few instruments.

Note: "Where is it?" is a question of location.  The USPS said exactly where it was.  IF he had tracked it (I believe he did) the question is "Unnecessary", and therefore, very sensitive ("doubly important") to the sender.  I said,

"he is going to try something; beware."

The tracking number is visible and 1-click link.  I noted the extra question marks and said to the seller:  Be alert. I think he is going to complain in order to get you to write back, apologize and offer him $50 or something 4or some small "compensation" for making him wait.   I said that the principle is this:

The question, "Where is it???" is an unnecessary question as USPS tells where it is, precisely, each and ever day.  It is unnecessary, therefore, it is "doubly important."

Two:  it is sent on the very day in which an early morning update said, "Out for delivery."  The email was sent at least two hours after the update.  This makes it also sensitive because timing is the location, now instead of time, is also "unnecessary."  He knows what time USPS comes to his shop or home, each day.  His complaint about  taking so long indicates what is in his brain:  complaining.

The update later in the day said, "Delivered; front porch" and he did not hear from the buyer.

The next day he did not hear from the buyer.
The day after that, and the day after that.

After four days, he received the following email:

Email #3

"Damaged item. Damn USPS.  They suck."

I noted:

1.  No pronouns connected to the buyer, nor even the seller.
2.  Passivity:

a.  What is damaged?
b.  Who damaged what?

He does not tell us that the electric guitar was damaged, nor does he tell us who damaged it.

Objection:  it is obvious who he meant.

Answer:  Statement Analysis teaches to listen to what one says and do not interpret.

Deceptive people are counting on you to interpret their words so they can avoid the internal stress of a direct lie.  Outright lying is stressful, not for conscience sake alone (many are not bothered in the least) but due to the nature of outright lying.

I advised:  he is lying.  Do not offer any money.  Contact eBay.  Do not tell him you know he is deceptive.  It pushes them to fight.  Fight they will.  The whole reason he is using passive language is to avoid being put in a place where he can be seen for who he is:  an outright liar.

Response:  He took my analysis and told the buyer that he was deceptive and an expert agrees.

Not good.

I advised him, just as I advise all businesses, small or large:  Tell the Truth, and Document it.

If you follow this formula, "Tell the truth and document it", you will save yourself money and trouble from liars.

Deceptive people "fall" more than others.
Deceptive people feel "owed" by the world.
Deceptive people fudge their time cards and seek to falsely exploit overtime.
Deceptive people quit to get unemployment fraudulently and cost companies a great deal.
Deceptive people do not like being seen as deceptive and will "attack", including fraudulent claims of harassment and sexual abuse.

In online businesses, scammers (deceptive people looking to gain an unfair advantage) are always innovating and changing with the times.

Tell the truth and document.

Scam:  Exploit the 100% Feedback of A Seller

He said that sellers are likely to jealously guard their feedback because people buy from them more than others because of their sterling reputations, earned through hard work.  It is their honor and their best advertisement:  100% Feedback from happy customers.

How do deceptive buyers exploit the 100% feedback?

It is relatively simple.

They complain with a veiled threat of, "either you give me some money back, or I will leave negative feedback." They avoid the wording like this, but the meaning is clear.

In other words, the liar wants the item, but wants some money "back" after receiving the item, or...he will insist that you did something so wrong that not only will you have to take it back, but you will now have to pay shipping.
"it's not as good as you said it was" even though the seller used pictures.   They actually want to keep the item, but they want money from the seller.

*If the seller "accepted" a lower price (rather than auction), the buyer may sense that the seller is desperate for money, and will not want to go through a refund process; therefore, the deceptive scammer will seek to exploit this, along with a very thin profit margin.

In Ebay sales, profit margins are so small that it often does not become worth it, so, as he explained, the seller will say "I'm sorry you are not happy.  It's too expensive to ship back, so how about I offer you a partial refund of $50 and you leave positive feedback for me?"  This is in spite of having a "No Return Policy" stated, and repeated.  In fact, by publishing that you, the seller, has a strict "no return policy", you are actually inviting this scam.  It is more common than most think.

The seller is this concerned about the threat of a negative feedback, even though the buyer was smart enough to not make a threat, as Ebay can read every email.

The buyer was enraged by being called a liar and filed a complaint with Ebay.  Ebay told the seller, "Don't worry about it.  The item is covered by USPS.  The buyer simply needs to file a complaint and USPS insurance will cover it. "

I told the Seller:  The buyer will not file a complaint with USPS.  To scam you is one thing, but to scan the Post Office is a federal offense.  He risks prison.

I told him, "The buyer did not say the item is broken so I will not say it for him.  Stick to your guns.  Document everything Ebay tells you.  Share with them my analysis."

Ebay advised the buyer to file a complaint with USPS.

He refused and demanded a refund. The seller refused and told Ebay, "he is lying."

EBay moved the case to "an open investigation."

I also looked into it and this is what I found:

It appeared that the Scammer has likely done this many times, successfully, perhaps more than 50, in the last several years.

In the last several years the buyer has had 24 "damaged" items delivered that he left "Negative Feedback" for sellers who refused to give him refunds.  This is either a lying scammer or the most unlucky guy in the world.

In the last several years, his feedback revealed that he had, on many occasions, asked Ebay to "investigate" and he wrote things like, "Lying seller.  Thank God Ebay backed me up!"

I noted that he used the word "lie" in some form, on most than 20 of the  24 negative feedbacks;
that he invoked Divinity on many of the insults.

Ebay Investigated:

The conclusion:

Ebay froze the Seller's account, demanded that the Seller pay the return shipping for the damaged item and would 100% refund the buyer.

The seller was livid!

He apologized for not following my advice about using the word "deceptive" in his contact with the scammer.

I told him the same thing I tell everyone:  Tell the truth and document.

I had him file an appeal with Ebay, and then give Ebay the information, which comes from their own site, regarding two dozen times in the last 2 1/2 years or so, that USPS "damaged" items.  Point this out and ask Ebay to learn:

a.  How many of these did he file with USPS.  My guess is ZERO.
b.  How many cases did he "lose" with EBay:  my guess is ZERO
c.  How many times did he need Ebay to "intervene", my guess, MANY.  But here is the big clinker:

d.  Ask Ebay to randomly choose a few "positive" transactions where the "positive" comment uses words or phrases such as "worked it out", or "better communication" or "reasonable" and "made things right..." and so on.

They could look at the paypal account and see "Partial Refund" issued on, what my guess was, more than a few. They have all the emails. They can see things like, "Gee, I'm sorry.  Its not your fault.  How about I refund you $20?  Please then leave positive feedback, ok?" type of communication.

I also said:  Do not speak to Ebay customer rep; only a supervisor.

Make sure, that with all the outsourcing of jobs, you speak to someone with very strong English skills.  This is vital.

You may use a phrase, like "passive" and someone who speaks English as a second language will not get it.

Do not accept a supervisor who does not have strong English and do not accept anyone who sounds like they are in a hurry, or you are irritating them.

This time, he took the advice.

He gave Ebay all the information, documented dated and signed.  He even copied the emails they already had and typed out the negative feedbacks, etc.

Even though Ebay had all of these things, having it typed up, plainly, in one cohesive manner, speaks to the lazy minded:  even you, the disinterested or overly busy or lazy minded, can see this scammer.

I told him to include to Ebay this:

"I intend to take this information to the local District Attorney's office, and the local District Attorney's office where ______ resides."

The seller did this very thing and said, "I even did a good job explaining about how passivity works.  He did not say that USPS damaged the guitar!  I think she really understood it, too!"

This time, the Ebay investigation wasn't so quick.

The Result

Ebay refunded all of the money, including the shipping, and ruled against the Scammer.

EBay then asked to be contacted when the returned guitar arrived.  He had told the supervisor that "this analyst guy says the guitar will minimal damage that could not come from USPS."

They wanted to know.

The damage in shipping?

There was none.

The Scammer wanted to keep it, so he cut a string.

Cost of repair:  $1.30
Time of repair:  less than 60 seconds.

I wish I could say that this ended well, in total, but it hasn't.  Even though he got his guitar back and all the money back, the Scammer is still in business. Even if they closed him down, he could simply open up under another name.

My guess was that more than 50 sellers had been blackmailed into partial refunds, but this estimate is not thorough, as my own time was limited. This is what I discovered in just an hour or so.  Imagine if I took the time to go through hundreds of purchases asking sellers, "Did you refund any money to so and so on this transaction, and if so, can you give me the amount?"

My guesstimate is that the number is quite a bit more and given than many of these purchases were over $1,000, with some close to $15,000, the blackmail refunds of "$10" were likely in the minority.  He likely scammed many more.

I have encouraged him to simply mail out copies of his documentations to the District Attorneys, as he intended.

Will they do anything about this thief?  Will they have the time?  Are the amounts too small?  Will they say that it is Ebay's responsibility instead?

I don't know, but I was glad to help someone who needed it.

Even with all the technological advances today, communication between human beings means that analysis of the words will reveal truth or deception.

Next up:  Knock Offs and Deception

Share your SCAM Story in our comments section.

George Anthony isn't the only one who supported a few Nigerian princesses.


GetThem said...

Ebay itself is scam I learned recently. In 11 years, I've run into only 2 scams (at least that I am aware of). The last one the seller sent me defective product and it would cost me more to send back then to keep it. I left negative feedback for the first time ever by choosing the middle option of feedback on how I felt the product was crappy, quality-wise. A week later Ebay removed my feedback because the seller has such wonderful feedback. I've read about other buyers who have encountered the same thing. Personally, I have all excellent ratings and I can understand not wanting to get negative feedback, but I do have right to my opinion in America, just not in Ebay.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry this is off topic.

I have a question about body posture in statements.

Do words of posture indicate sensitivity or tension when they are part of an idiomatic expression?

For example:
"I stood up for myself."
"I stand behind my statements."
"I'm not going to take this lying down."
"I was a sitting duck."
"That doesn't sit well with me."
"He is sitting pretty."

Do idioms that contain body posture still indicate tension, since they do not add extraneous information? (My boss stood there and told me...etc.)

"If I go to trial for this and if I`m convicted for this, whoever did this is going to be sitting very pretty somewhere." -Jodi Arias

"Well, at that point I wasn't going anywhere 'cause I ran out of gas. I was totally stranded. I was like a sitting duck."- Jodi Arias

When somebody uses an idiomatic expression, are they entering the language of someone else (i.e., the society in which they were raised)?

Is it just a coincidence that the idioms containing body posture indicate tense situations (confrontation/accusation)?

"I stood up for myself" enters the speaker's language when he/she is indicating that they were confronted (verbally or otherwise) by the other party.

"I stand behind my statements" enters the speaker's language when somebody has questioned his/her statements.

"I'm not going to take this lying down" enters the speaker's language when he/she feels wronged by the other party and plans to respond.

"I was a sitting duck" enters the speaker's language when he/she wishes to convey his/her vulnerability in a particular situation. The other party becomes the "hunter" of the duck.

"That doesn't sit well with me" enters the speaker's language when he/she objects to the morality or truthfulness of the other party.

"He is sitting pretty" enters the speaker's language when he/she wishes to convey that the subject is in a more advantageous position than the speaker feels the subject deserves.

Do you think that these idioms originate in an association between tension and body posture that is common to all English language speakers?

Is there merit in analyzing other idioms a speaker may choose?

For example, Jim Wright commented about his missing six year old daughter Jenise, "My head’s just swimming, I don't know what to think."

Jim Wright told us that his head is "swimming." Should this be considered a reference to water, as it pertains to sexual abuse? Is it unreliable to analyze the language he chose if he entered the language of an idiomatic expression?

I appreciate any insights you may be able to offer.


Anonymous said...

Great denial Bill !!!

"There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy,"

Trishapatk said...

I've been a seller on ebay for sixteen years and have had the exact same experience. A friend who also sells regularly has it happen also.
We have begun to see a pattern to it also. I have never investigated the buyer to see how often he or she may be doing it but even if we did it's hard to know how to avoid it.
It often begins with the buyer asking for a lower price - in the middle they make a little complaint about it and either ask for a partial refund or leave it open probably with the hope of that happening - and then when I don't make a partial refund ( often because it seems like extortion) it often ends with them turning it into a "case" by saying that it isn't as described or that there is something wrong with it and Ebay always sides with the buyer.
Although I can understand the position that Ebay takes which is that they want it to be a "safe place" for people to buy things ( including returning them for whatever reason) it is unfair to an honest seller.

I have gotten to the point where I don't want to give anyone a reduction in price because too often that has been part of the pattern and now my friend and I feel like we are just setting ourselves up for trouble again.

Analyzing the messages sent to this seller was interesting and it did point to the deception. I am very glad that the seller was vindicated and that he didn't end up being hurt financially but what a lot of bother he had to go to - and it still seems like eBay is going to side with buyers more often than sellers.

I wish that there were a way to sniff them out prior to the transaction taking place. That's the tricky part. We may get better at seeing it coming but avoiding it is tricky. I suppose that insuring everything is a start and insisting upon photos of supposed damages.

What I've ended up doing is just writing and saying, "I'm sorry you're not happy with the item, please return it and I will refund your money when it arrives" I do give some guidelines about how it has to be packaged though and in one instance when the item was not packaged correctly and it got damaged on the way Ebay did side with me. Other than that time though, it seems as though the scammers have an easy time getting away with this on eBay and it is hard for us sellers to know how to avoid it.
It truly costs us money too, it isn't breaking even. The original shipping money has been spent but if they open a case to return the item then the seller has to pay for the return shipping and refund the original shipping along with the full price.

Peter, if you can give us any further suggestions for how to avoid them it would be great. Your suggestions about speaking only to english speaking eBay representatives and supervisors is very good.

Thanks for posting this.

Statement Analysis Blog said...

KM: Don' apologize for OT. We encourage it.

Your post and questions are intelligent.

Anonymous said...
I'm sorry this is off topic.

I have a question about body posture in statements.

Do words of posture indicate sensitivity or tension when they are part of an idiomatic expression?

For example:
"I stood up for myself."
"I stand behind my statements."
"I'm not going to take this lying down."
"I was a sitting duck."
"That doesn't sit well with me."
"He is sitting pretty."

This is not real body posture. Think of the recall process....

"My boss stood and told me..."

"My mother sat me down and talked to me..."

Look at the context.

It is not necessary to have the body posture added. That it is added means that while the recall process is in play, the subject is recalling the seriousness of the words, so much so, that the body posture accompanies it.

"Stood up for oneself" does, in a sense, speak to posture in that it can picture a confrontation of sorts, but "sitting pretty" certainly does not.

Put it in context and use your judgment. Your posts suggests you have no small supply of it.