Gerald Stanton canceled a planned boat tour of the Panama Canal after suffering a terrible accident last fall.
That day trip through the canal was scheduled for January of this year — before the coronavirus crisis began. So why is the operator of this excursion blaming the eight-month refund delay on the pandemic?
That’s the $252 question that faces the Elliott Advocacy team today. (Reprint)
Planning a cruise and a boat tour of the Panama Canal
In late 2019, Stanton and his wife decided to take a cruise to South and Latin America. They began exploring various shore excursions and add-ons for their adventure. One particular experience caught their eyes: a full-day boat tour promoted by Panama Canal Trips.
The couple decided to take the 10-hour excursion after their cruise. The boat tour would transport them through the entire length of the Panama Canal, from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean.
“We were really looking forward to the adventure exploring the Panama Canal,” Stanton recalled.
Unfortunately, it was an adventure that the couple would not be taking.
A terrible injury leads to a canceled boat tour and cruise
At the end of October I suffered a terrible injury – an ankle fracture with three broken bones. It required two surgeries and six permanent pins to stabilize my left foot. This was a dangerous procedure for me since I am a diabetic. As a result of the injury, I spent over 8 weeks in either the hospital or a nursing home undergoing rehabilitation. My doctor said that under no circumstances would I be able to travel. So we canceled the cruise and, of course, the Panama Canal boat tour as well.
Soon after his surgery, Stanton scoured through the cancellation information about his scheduled boat trip through the Panama Canal. At this point, it was more than 60 days before departure.
“I canceled the boat tour with Panama Canal Trips through email on Nov. 22,” Stanton explained. “The website said it would take up to 22 business days to complete the refund.”
When Stanton’s request for help arrived in my inbox, it was eight months later, with no refund in sight.
Panama Canal Trips: “We could send your refund via PayPal.”
Stanton had been very patient waiting for the refund for his canceled Panama Canal tour. In fact, he had methodically followed up every few weeks, asking the company politely what was causing the delay.
At the end of December, Stanton received an email from Panama Canal Trips confirming that “the proper people” were processing his refund for the canceled boat tour. A few weeks later, when those proper people hadn’t sent the refund, Stanton sent another email. This time the company told him that it would send the refund via PayPal.
There was only one problem with that resolution. Stanton didn’t have a PayPal account. And having read many articles about the possibility of shenanigans with PayPal accounts, he didn’t want one either.
They [Panama Canal Trips] asked me if I have a PayPal account, which I do not. And I do not want to open a PayPal account. I’m concerned about the possibility of fraud. The Panama Canal Trips brochure clearly states that it will refund the money to the original credit card account used to purchase the tour. The company makes no mention of PayPal or any other payment means. I told them they could send me a check if they wished and gave them my address. (Dr. Stanton to Michelle)
Although Panama Canal Trips then agreed to send Stanton a refund check for his canceled boat tour, a new excuse was on the horizon.
What does the coronavirus have to do with the refund delay for this boat tour?
Weeks went by, and Stanton and his wife checked their mailbox each day for the refund. With growing frustration, it became apparent that the check was not “in the mail” as promised.
Instead of being able to focus on recovering from his injuries, Stanton was distracted by the battle for his refund from Panama Canal Trips.
“So, I sent more emails to ask about the status of our refund,” Stanton recalled. “I was getting all sorts of excuses.”
But starting in March, the company began offering a new excuse for the delay: the coronavirus. Undeterred, Stanton continued to send emails and call Panama Canal Trips to request a check or a credit to his visa.
But no matter how many times the company confirmed it was processing the refund, it became clear that it wasn’t.
Is the coronavirus really what’s causing the delay of this canceled boat tour refund?
I went through Stanton’s entire paper trail. I could see that he and his wife had followed all of the problem-solving guidance that Christopher offers in his article on the subject.
So what went wrong? And why was the coronavirus excuse being used eight months after the refund request?
To find out, I sent an email to Panama Canal Trips.
We were contacted by one of your customers, Dr. Gerald Stanton, about his experience with your company. At the end of November, Dr. Stanton suffered an injury that forced him to cancel his Panama Canal boat tour with your company. It was to occur on Jan 27. Your accounting department has repeatedly promised to provide a 70% refund, which amounts to $252 (I’ve included the correspondence below my signature).
Could you have a look at this request and see if you can find out what’s gone wrong here? (Michelle to Panama Canal Trips)
More coronavirus excuses for a missing refund
I heard back from the company within hours. The coronavirus excuses that Christopher discussed last week in his article were now the foundation for the delay.
We understand, we send this refund to our bank. However, with the theme of the Pandemic [the refund] has been delayed. Well, we have an absolute quarantine in Panama and many banks are not working at their maximum capacity. Everything is closed here.
On several occasions, we have requested Mr. Stanton, [open] a Paypal account. [Then we could send] this refund immediately, but he does not have one.
Last Monday, I was able to contact the bank and they promised that [the refund] would be ready in about two weeks.
We understand that this refund has to be made but we also had to go through a process. We had to ask for the refund of that money from the different service providers, the ones that had been paid for Mr. Stanton’s tour.
We are aware, hopefully, this can be resolved in 2 weeks. Thank you.
The True Panama Canal Tour (Ivan to Michelle)
How having a PayPal account could get this refund processed — fast
I knew that Stanton really didn’t want to open a PayPal account. But I also knew that opening a temporary PayPal account could quickly end his eight-month battle for the refund. So I broached the subject with Stanton and Ivan from Panama Canal Trips.
Thank you, Ivan. I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly. Dr. Stanton, maybe you would like to open a PayPal account just for the purposes of making this transfer quickly? After the transfer is complete, you can close the PayPal account. It’s pretty simple. (Michelle to Ivan at Panama Canal Trips and Dr. Stanton)
With a little trepidation, Stanton agreed to give it a try. I gave him some instructions about setting up the temporary PayPal account.
So, the way PayPal works is you set up an account and the sender will get your email address and send you the money via your email address in PayPal. Then once you receive it, you can transfer the refund to your bank account (which you must add temporarily to your PayPal account). Once the transfer is complete, you can close your PayPal account permanently. Here’s a link to get you started setting up your PayPal account. Ivan, Can you send the refund to Dr. Stanton’s PayPal account tomorrow if he sets this up tonight? Thank you! (Michelle to Dr. Stanton and Ivan at Panama Canal Trips)
Here’s your refund! But wait! Now you’re banned from PayPal
The good news came swiftly. Stanton successfully set up his PayPal account and Ivan sent the refund right away. Stanton was thrilled to finally see his refund arrive after all those months of struggle. But then, unbelievably, yet another roadblock to this refund appeared.
“I received the refund — minus a small transaction fee from PayPal,” Stanton reported. “But when I tried to transfer the money into my account, Paypal sent me a message that it froze my account.”
Uh-oh. The dreaded PayPal Account Limitation email. We receive many requests for assistance from PayPal users who receive this message.
Typically, there isn’t much we can do in this situation since something about the user’s transaction has set off an alert at PayPal. In these cases, the company will not discuss specifics with us. But I knew that there wasn’t anything fraudulent about Stanton’s transaction and I assumed it was a PayPal error. So I had one more person to contact to finally get Stanton’s refund into his bank account: our friendly executive at PayPal.
Can PayPal release this refund for the canceled boat tour and finally end this battle?
I have a case here that I think will be very easy to resolve. Gerald Stanton was waiting for a refund from a tour company in Panama and that company wanted to send him a refund via PayPal. He was reluctant to open a PayPal account, but I encouraged him to do it. Once he opened it and the merchant sent the refund, Dr. Stanton tried to transfer the money into his bank account. But then PayPal put his account on a temporary hold or froze it now.
He’s been waiting for this refund since November and the merchant finally sent it — is there any way to unblock his account quickly and approve this transaction? He only opened the account at my insistence. 😬Thank you! (Michelle to PayPal)
The good news! Here’s your refund!
And the next day, Stanton finally had his refund for the canceled boat tour of the Panama Canal.
Thanks again for reaching out. Our customer service team positively resolved this issue for Dr. Stanton.
On background and for further clarification, it appears our Risk Model was triggered due to the account being new, receiving a payment relatively quickly, and then the immediate attempt to withdraw the funds — which resulted in a 24-hour review hold on the withdrawal attempt.
I’ve also asked our team to refund Dr. Stanton’s fee for the inconvenience, which he should see reflected soon. (PayPal to Michelle)
And Stanton was so relieved to finally end this struggle that he donated half of his refund to Elliott Advocacy’s summer fundraiser (Thank you, Dr. Stanton! 🙂 )
Here’s how to safely use PayPal to get a refund (for a boat tour or anything else)
In this case, Panama Canal Trips was never resistant to providing the refund that it owed Stanton for his canceled boat tour. But the company had a specific preferred method for processing the refund. Stanton was concerned about PayPal’s scam potential that he had heard about on our site and other places. He was right to be cautious, but there are ways to minimize the risks.
Here’s how you can safely use PayPal if your tour operator owes you a refund and suggests PayPal.
- Familiarize yourself with PayPal
The platform has a low scam potential as long as you familiarize yourself with PayPal’s terms, conditions and protocols. The vast majority of consumers who contact our team with PayPal problems have neglected to follow some necessary security steps. Unfortunately, these oversights can lead to exposure to internet (and even real-life) predators. (See: Never give an eBay buyer your home address).You can significantly lower your chances of being a target by understanding how to use PayPal properly.
- Set up two-step authentication (PayPal Security Key)
For users looking for an additional level of security, PayPal offers a two-step authentication for sign in (PayPal Security Key). Since Paypal does not enable the system by default, users will need to request activation. Once activated, PayPal will send a text message with a temporary code each time the user signs into their account. That code, along with the password is then necessary to access the account. Two-step authentication makes it almost impossible for unwanted intrusion by thieves.
- Monitor your emails for unauthorized PayPal transactions
PayPal sends email notifications to users after every transaction. So it’s essential to monitor the email associated with your PayPal account. Should a fraudster somehow gain access to your account, you’ll want to know immediately to minimize the impact.
- Remove bank account access to your PayPal account
It’s true, you must have a bank account associated with your PayPal account to receive a payment or refund through the platform. But you can remove that information as soon as you receive the payment. If you’re only using PayPal to buy things, you just need to have a credit card on file. If you’re using a PayPal account to receive regular payments, you should consider setting up a dedicated bank account. Each time you receive cash, you can then transfer that money to your primary bank account. Remember, if a criminal gains access to your Paypal account, that thief also gains access to any funds in the associated bank account.
- Check and double-check email addresses
It’s critical to check and double-check that you’re giving the correct email address to anyone making a payment to you. If you provide an incorrect email address, your funds can land in the wrong person’s account. If that happens, you’ll have a whole new host of problems. To prevent that scenario, take the time to make certain that you’re providing the correct email for payments. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)