Nobody wants to see an eBay transaction get to the point at which buyers are considering filing disputes with their credit card issuer for purchases that haven't satisfied them.
eBay, of course, doesn't like to see this happen because it creates problems for their balance sheets and the PayPal payment system and damages both their reputation and relationship with credit card issuers. This is why eBay has gone to the trouble of creating programs like the buyer protection program that mediates disputes with sellers.
Sellers don't like it because dealing with credit card chargebacks can be serious business. What is for a buyer a matter of one purchase that didn't go well can for a seller mean (in some cases) the end of their business or even frozen bank accounts and personal financial ruin.
Buyers, too, should be wary of credit card disputes, since they take a long time and are something of a hassle compared to the processes in place on eBay for dealing with disputes. There are times, however, when you're just not satisfied with the way that things have worked out and you're looking for options to pursue in order to be compensated or properly served.
Many buyers, however, have never actually opened a credit card dispute and don't know quite how to do it. For the uninitiated, here are the steps involved.
Filing a Credit Card Dispute
- Ensure that you paid by credit card. The most important factor in all of
this is to first be sure that you have made your payment through Visa,
MasterCard, American Express, Discover/Novus, or another major credit card
payment system. Debit transactions, "instant bank transfers" of the sort
that PayPal offers, and e-checks are not eligible for this kind of
protection or dispute activity.
- Find the credit card and phone number. You'll likely need the credit card number,
expiration date, and other identifying characteristics for the card, as well
as the customer service number printed on its backside.
- Call the card issuer. Call the customer service number printed on the
backside of the card. If you reach an automated system, choose the option or
do what you can to get an actual human to talk to (sometimes, for
particularly closed automated systems, you can achieve this by experimenting
with combinations of '0' and '*' on your phone).
- Tell them you'd like to "dispute a charge." When they ask whether the
activity is fraudulent, tell them that no, you made the purchase
(i.e. your card wasn't stolen and used by someone else), but have not
received what you paid for.
- Give the details when asked. The card issuer will likely now ask a
series of questions that can take some time to answer. Follow along with
their questions and give your side of the story. (See the tips below for
some things to ask yourself before you call/answer these questions.)
- Follow through as the case progresses. In general, the card issuer will issue a "provisional" credit back to your card for the purchase amount, presuming that you, their customer, are in the right. They will then proceed to investigate the claim (getting other sides of the story from the seller and/or eBay and PayPal) before rendering a final decision, a process that can take anywhere from days to months. As they investigate, they may return to you multiple times for additional documentation or clarification; always respond in a timely fashion or you may lose the case.
Often this process can seem drawn-out and unpleasant, though for some card issuers it's quick and painless. The quality and responsiveness of the disputes department often depends on the bank or financial institution with which you're working (i.e. the one whose logo and name are on the card).
You're not guaranteed a victory, so it's best to treat the funds they've credited back to the card as "not there" until the case is finally resolved. If you immediately spend the provisional credit and it is later reversed, you may have a much higher balance and/or interest payments on your card than you'd planned, or (if the card is near its limit) you could even suddenly face over-the-limit charges.
Tips for Winning Credit Card Disputes
In general the credit card issuers are much more thorough and much more attentive than are eBay and PayPal, so when eBay buyer protection doesn't work out in your favor, you have a good chance with the credit card issuers. There are, however, some things that you should keep in mind if you want to win your case:
- Have all of the details ready. Don't call until you have the
purchase date, purchase amount, seller ID, item listing, arrival date, make
and model of the item, and so on in front of you. Your ability to quickly,
confidently, and factually answer any questions that are asked of you is key
to your success.
- You need to come across as a reasonable person. Be polite and
professional and keep your head about you as you talk to the card issuer. If
they decide you're a loose cannon and are difficult to work with on the
phone, they may feel that you were just as difficult a customer for the
seller and had unrealistic or unreasonable expectations for the transaction.
Take a deep breath and be calm and patient. This will be sorted out, but it
will take time.
- Say that you did not receive what you paid for, period. This is
the one and only way that you will win your case. For some buyers, this is
obvious, but other buyers struggle to see how this makes ethical sense,
saying things like "Well, I got it and it worked really well for two days,
but then it died, and I feel that I should be refunded," or "it was all sort
of a misunderstanding, the item is actually really nice, just not what I
thought it was," and so on. Such statements will not lead to a decision in
your favor—it suggests merely that you broke a perfectly good item or were
an uncareful shopper. What will win your case is a simple, direct "The item
was clearly defective when it arrived and is nonfunctional at this time" or
"I did not receive the item that I saw pictured in the listing," or
other similar forms of you not getting what you paid for.
- State your openness to exchanges in addition to refunds. Credit card issuers don't generally deal in exchanges when it comes to credit card disputes; they're in the business of deciding to credit you back or not. They tend to be more favorable, however, to buyers that naively say things like "I'd be totally happy with an exchange; all I want is to get what I paid for at the price I already paid!"
The most important thing to remember when filing a credit card dispute is that you're dealing with a business that is in the business of enabling business. They do this every day; it's nothing special. Being cool, calm, and collected, and understanding that the reason that you want a refund or exchange is because you didn't get what you were expecting to get (and fairly believe you're owed).