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[5/22/17]  Last November Clive Rose* sold two handmade Japanese swords on eBay, worth a total of £1,940. The buyer, once he had received them, demanded that the cost of the more expensive sword be slashed. Rose refused to haggle and asked for the items to be returned and a refund issued.

Eventually a box arrived. “We couldn’t open it until we had signed for it,” says Rose. “On the label it said two items were inside. When we had signed and opened it up we found the cheaper £540 sword badly damaged because of poor packaging, and a brick. The other £1,400 sword, for which he had been trying to barter, was not there.”

The buyer claimed Rose had forfeited his rights by signing for the parcel, while eBay’s response was similar. Although Rose sent photographs and message threads to support his case, eBay took the money from his PayPal account and refunded the buyer for both swords. Rose, who has a 100% satisfaction rating from other buyers, had his account suspended for withholding eBay’s seller fees and is now threatened with debt collectors because his PayPal account is overdrawn.

The tale will be familiar to many eBay sellers who have experienced difficulties with problem buyers.

It was only after The Observer intervened that the auction site examined the history of Rose’s buyer – what the company found was a pattern of suspect behaviour. “The buyer’s account has been suspended and we are happy to issue the seller with a courtesy refund to ensure he is not left out of pocket,” eBay says.

It is a year since The Observer reported that eBay had introduced a pilot programme to address issues around similar problems. At the time, critics claimed its measures to protect buyers from dodgy transactions left sellers at the mercy of fraudsters who can manipulate the system to effectively steal goods.

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