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For Buyers Who Have a Problem Getting Delivery of a Paid-For Item from a Seller

© 1999-2003 by Tessa Hebert, all right reserved.

If the auction was listed on eBay, please see the eBay-specific "What to Do" list at this URL:

 Introduction  Advice and Instructions  Your Rights  If the Item Was Lost or Damaged During Delivery
 Document Everything  Contact the Seller  Don't Break Rules  If the Seller Breaks the Auction Site's Rules
 Request the Seller's Info  Phone the Seller  Payment Evidence  File Fraud with the FBI
 File Fraud with the USPS   National Fraud Information Center  International Web Police  National Consumer Complaint Center
 Your Local Fraud Group  Seller's Local Fraud Group  Your District Attorney  Seller's District Attorney
 State Attorney General  Notify the Auction Site  Federal Trade Commission  Seller's ISP
 Feedback  Credit-Card Charge-Back  PayPal  NA Arts & Crafts
 Notes  Help Articles  Obtaining Permission to Link To or Copy This Article  E-mail the Author


This article is for those who either:
1.  Paid for an item and never received it.
2.  Paid for an item, but received an item that was not as it was described in the advertisement or auction.
3.  Paid for an item that was received damaged in delivery.

Your Rights:  You have rights, by law in the United States of America, to receive the item you paid for, as it was described in the auction.  Even if you or the seller does not live in the USA, your country and the seller's country probably have similar laws.

The seller is required to ship within 30 days of payment, according to the rules of the Federal Trade Commission that governs the federal laws in the USA that are designed to protect consumers.

If the seller claims the item was shipped, but the item has not arrived, or if the item was damaged during shipping, the seller must replace the item or refund, unless you agreed that you would assume the risk of damage or loss during shipping.  (See below, If the item was lost or damaged in delivery.)  Even if the seller stated in the auction or sale listing that the buyer assumes the risk of loss/damage during shipping, you can still file fraud charges against the seller if you did not receive the item you paid for.

If you do not receive the item you paid for, or have not been notified by the seller that the item was shipped within 30 days of payment, please follow the Advice and Instructions in this article below.

There are local (city, county, and state) laws that also protect consumers in the USA, including laws against fraud. If the item was falsely or inaccurately described by the seller, you can file fraud and criminal charges against the seller.

It is important to file charges with the proper authorities.  Your local police may not be able to help you, because local law enforcement may lack jurisdiction over Internet crimes and/or may consider the matter to be one that has to be settled in a civil court.  But other government agencies, such as the FBI, do have jurisdiction over Internet crimes and will investigate.  An investigation by the proper authorities may help you to get your money back, because the seller might decide it is in his best interests to avoid prosecution or jail time by refunding your money.

The auction site or Internet site will probably provide little if any assistance to you.  You are on your own in dealing with the seller.  Most sites take the position that they are a listing venue only and have no responsibility for the actions of their users (See the site's user agreement.) and that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows Internet companies and service providers to avoid responsibility for the content of the items bought or sold on their sites.  That position has unfortunately been upheld by USA courts.  (In June of 2002, the California Court of Appeals rejected an appeal of the dismissal by the state court of the class-action lawsuit filed against eBay in April of 2000 in San Diego County.)

If the item was lost or damaged in delivery:

(a) First, contact the seller, either by e-mail or by phone, following the instructions in #2, #3, and #6 below..

(b) If the item was shipped by using the United States Postal Service, and the delivery was insured:  bring the item with all its packaging to the post office and file an insurance claim.

(c) If the item was shipped by United Parcel Service:

Non-Delivery:  If the item has not yet been delivered, you can track its delivery at this online location:

Damage:  If the item was damaged, either the seller or the buyer can complete the form at this online location:

You may also call UPS Customer Service at 1-800-PICK-UPS (1-800-742-5877).

(d) If the item was shipped by a service other than USPS or UPS:  Contact the seller about what to do.

(e) If the delivery was not insured and the item did not arrive:  Contact the seller and request a refund of the total amount you paid for the item and for shipping.

(f) If the delivery was not insured and the item was damaged:  Contact the seller about returning the item and request either (1) a replacement item; or (2) a refund of the total amount you paid for the item and for shipping plus the cost of returning the item to the seller.  Be sure to insure the return delivery to the seller to protect yourself against any possibility of the seller claiming non-delivery or damage during shipping.  You do NOT have the right to demand a replacement or a refund on the item if you do not return it to the seller.

(g) If you do not receive a complete refund of the amount you paid, or a replacement item from the seller:  Follow the Advice and Instructions below.

(g) You may also send the seller the link to my help article for sellers, What To Do If the Item Is Lost or Damaged During Delivery, and is available at this link:

Advice and Instructions:

1.  Keep good notes and document everything about the transaction. Print out hard copies of:

(a) all your e-mail correspondence to and from the seller:
Be sure to "turn the headers on" before you print out the e-mail.  Turning the headers on will show all of the internet-routing information on the e-mail.
In Netscape Navigator/Communicator:  Go to your e-mail section (Click "Communicator," then "Messenger"), then click "View," then "Headers," and then "All."
(b) the auction listing; and
(c) the End-of-Auction Notice from the auction site.
2.  Send E-mail to the seller.
Be very firm, but polite, and make specific points about what you expect from the seller.

Set a deadline for compliance and tell the seller what it is.

Do NOT engage in any personal attacks against the seller's character or personality.

Refuse to participate in any arguments that the seller may present.

Do NOT make any statements which could be interpreted as threats.

3.  Do not engage in any activity that is against the auction site's rules or is illegal.
Do not contact seller's other bidders or interfere in any way with seller's business. See note below for About Contacting Other Auction Users.
4.  If the seller behaves in a manner which is against the auction sites's rules, notify the auction site.

5.  Request the seller's user-registration information from the auction site.

6.  Attempt to contact the seller by phone or by postal mail (and proceed as in numbers 2 and 3 above).

[You are NOT required to do this, and the cost of a long distance phone call (or the effort of a written letter) may be more than you want to spend. However, many times a problem can be promptly resolved by speaking or writing to the other party, so it is recommended that you try a phone call or letter].
7.  Be sure that you have evidence that the seller did receive your payment, such as a canceled check or a copy of the money order with the seller's endorsement on it.  This evidence that the seller received your payment might be required for filing charges.
You can obtain a copy of the canceled check from your bank, if you don't already have the original canceled check which was  provided to you with your bank statement for that month.

If you paid by money order, you will have to contact the institution which sold the money order.  Look on your copy of the money order receipt for an address or phone number and call or write the institution and ask for a copy of the canceled money order.  This may take several weeks or months, so get started on obtaining this early.  It will also cost you a fee.

Some money-order companies have online sites, where you can check to see if the money order has been cashed and find out who cashed it.

If the seller claims that your payment was not received, and you mailed your payment with the USA postal service, file a Lost Mail Claim at the post office, for your lost payment.  There is a Claim Form to be filled out, which you can obtain from a postal clerk at the post office.  You fill out your part and turn it in at the post office. The post office then will check through the postal system, from your area to the buyer's area for your lost payment, and the post office will require that the seller's postmaster, the seller's postal clerk and the seller fill out the form.  While it's not likely that this will result in finding your payment (and it can take four weeks for the post office to complete the claim), it might; and it will also alert the seller that you are seriously pursuing the avenues available to you.  Also, because the seller is required to fill out the form, the seller will not be very likely to lie to the post office, under penalties of perjury and mail fraud, about receiving your payment.

8.  File a fraud report with the FBI.  The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC),, is for consumers and businesses to report suspected internet frauds.  The Internet Fraud Complaint Center is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and The National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).  For victims of internet fraud, the IFCC provides an easy-to-use form to report fraud.  For law enforcement agencies, the IFCC provides a depository for information, help with identifying fraud trends, and access to statistics on fraud trends.
To file a complaint, click here:
9.  If the transaction involved the use of the United States Postal Service (you mailed your payment to the seller, or seller mail item to you), file a Mail Fraud Complaint Form with the Postal Inspector's Office.
To File a Mail Fraud Complaint Form Online:  You can fill out a Mail Fraud Complaint Form online, or print out the form and mail it.

Click here to file the online Mail Fraud Complaint Form:

To get a Mail Fraud Complaint Form:   The form is available for a 1-800 phone call, and you will be provided a postage-free envelope to mail it back.  Call 1-800-275-8777 and ask the Operator there to give you the number to call for your zip code area.

You can also download the Mail Fraud Form, if you have Adobe Acrobat Reader software, by clicking this URL: 

 It does help to file a Mail Fraud Complaint, because not many sellers will refuse to deliver the item or give you a refund on your payment for the item, when the Postal Service notifies them that a Mail Fraud Complaint is being investigated.
10.  Feel free to contact the National Fraud Information Center if you have questions concerning fraud. You can prevent future fraud by filing a complaint at this URL:
Several people who filed a report with this organization have reported that they received a refund of their money, so, do not hesitate to file a complaint with the NFIC.
11.  There is also the International Web Police, which is an organization to protect the Global Internet Community. You can file a report here:

12.  Another private organization, which reports consumer complaints to agencies that are interested in investigating and taking action, is The National Consumer Complaint Center for Internet Fraud, False Advertising, and Breached Warranties and you can file a complaint there:

13.  Contact your local-area fraud group.  Your city police or sheriff may be able to help you locate a local-area fraud group.  File a written complaint with that agency.

Note:  Your local police or sheriff may NOT have jurisdiction or be allowed by law to investigate or file charges about internet crimes.  But they may be helpful in directing you to organizations that can help you.
14.  Contact a local-area fraud group in the seller's area.  The city police or sheriff in the seller's area may be able to help you locate a local-area fraud group.  File a written complaint with that agency.
Note:  The police or sheriff may NOT have jurisdiction or be allowed by law to investigate or file charges about internet crimes.  But they may be helpful in directing you to organizations that can help you.
15.  Contact your local District Attorney's Office.  File a written complaint with the District Attorney's fraud group.

16.  Contact the seller's local District Attorney's Office.  File a written complaint with the District Attorney's fraud group.

17.  File a complaint with your State Attorney General and the Attorney General in the state of the person who committed fraud.  Many state's Attorneys General have special investigative units for internet fraud.  You may be able to find a form online to report internet fraud directly to the State Attorney General.  To find out how to contact an Attorney General in the 50 USA states, go to the National Association of Attorneys General at this location:

18.  Notify the auction site.  Look for a link on the auction site for "customer support," or any link to notify the auction site.

19.  File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems, the FTC does compile complaint data and investigates criminal activity, and your complaint will help the FTC to investigate fraud and can lead to law enforcement action.  You can fill out the Complaint Form at or go to the Federal Trade Commission Web Site at: and click on Complaint Form (at the bottom of the page) to report an internet scammer.

You can also file a complaint about Internet auction fraud with the Federal Trade Commission by calling the FTC toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
The FTC also has a helpful article for buyers and sellers titled "Internet Auctions: Secrets of Success" at this location:

Also, the FTC has a publication titled "Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers," that offers more information about Internet auctions. You can order a copy of the guide at or by calling the FTC toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Also, the FTC provides a host of pamphlets to help consumers recognize the warning signs of various financial cons at:
20.  Notify the seller's Internet Service Provider (ISP) of all charges and complaints filed with legal authorities, by e-mail to support@[ISP name].[com or net] or to go seller's ISP site and find a place to e-mail the webmaster of the ISP.

21.  Post negative feedback in the seller's Feedback File.  Specifically mention what seller did. Keep it non-personal, non-emotional, and non-offensive.

You can suggest in your feedback that anyone in need of more information can contact you, but be careful about what you post, and do not break any of the auction site's rule about feedback.

It is best to NOT post negative feedback until after you have exhausted all possible means of communicating with and obtaining the item or a refund from the seller.

It is quite possible that the seller will post retaliatory negative feedback against you.  So, you may not wish to post negative feedback against the seller, in the hope of not receiving retaliatory negative feedback.

You are NOT required to post feedback against the seller.

22.  If your payment was made by a credit card, notify your credit card company that there is a problem with the transaction and that you want to do a charge-back on the charge.
If you paid through a payment service, such as PayPal:  Notify the payment service before filing a charge-back with the credit-card company.  PayPal requires that you notify PayPal first and allow PayPal to try to work it out for you before you do a charge-back on your credit card.
23.  If your payment was made via PayPal, and if the seller did not ship the item, PayPal will help you get your money back.  Please read paragraph VII. Consumer Protection Programs of the User Agreement at this location: .  PayPal's protection does not cover an item that was misrepresented, or an item lost in the mail, or the seller's failure to deliver intangible goods.

The Buyer Complaint Form must be filed within 30 days of payment.  To file a Buyer Complaint Form, log in to PayPal and click the Security Center link in the footer of any PayPal page. However, even if you have passed that deadline, notify PayPal anyway.  If PayPal does not help you, and you paid with a credit card, contact your credit-card company about doing a charge-back.

24.  If the item was described as art or craft made by a Native American, you may file a complaint under The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to advertise or sell any art or craft in a way that falsely suggests it is produced by an American Indian or is the product of a particular American Indian tribe.  The Indian Arts and Crafts Board receives and refers valid complaints about violations of The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to the FBI for investigation and to the Department of Justice for legal action.

Please read the information available at this site and follow the instructions:

To file a complaint under the Act, or to get free information about the Act, contact the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., MS 4004-MIB, Washington, D.C. 20240;
Phone:  202-208-3773;  or visit the website (the web site is often down, so keep trying) or e-mail:

You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (see above).


Remember, if the seller is cheating you, the seller is probably cheating a lot of other people too.  There might be others who will get hurt like you did, if you do not file complaints with the proper authorities and the auction site.  It is very important to file a report with the proper authorities and notify the auction site, because the auction site and the legal authorities can only act if you report the crime.

If you provide sufficient evidence and file complaints, the auction site can suspend the seller's registration and the authorities will have what they need to file charges, obtain search warrants to obtain further evidence, and prosecute.
Seek help and comfort from a friend. You are NOT alone and good people do care!

About Contacting Other Auction Users:

 It may be helpful to contact other users of the same auction site who may be having a similar problem with the same user.  It may be very helpful to form a support group with other users who have suffered a similar problem as yours.  A group action may be more effective than a single action.  Also information can be pooled about the criminal, which may be helpful in aiding the authorities to track down and prosecute the criminal.  Moral support can be provided to others to encourage them to file complaints and reports to legal authorities, as well as other actions which may prevent future fraud.

However, do be careful to not break any of the auction site's rules or do anything to cause you to lose your user privileges.

Be particularly careful about what you write or state to any third-party user (who may not keep your correspondence confidential).

Do not make any statements which are untrue or speculative or may endanger you (such as libelous or slanderous statements).

Warning:  Some sellers shill their own auctions (use another User ID to bid on their own auctions).  So a bidder on the seller's auction is not always another person or a victim of the seller's scams.

Phone numbers for the proper agencies to file written complaints with are available:
(1) in your local phone book;
(2) through your phone company's long-distance information or 1-800 information; and
(3) by using an Internet search engine.

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This article © 1999-2003 by Tessa Hebert
Revised 02-22-03
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