Help! I paid a scammer $1,200 for a free Costco magazine!

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Christopher Elliott

What if you ordered a $1,200 garden shed online, but instead, the scammer only sends you a free Costco magazine? That’s what happened to Sharon Keenan and she wants PayPal to reverse this expensive scam. So far, that hasn’t happened. Can we help?

Question

My problem involves something that looks like a PayPal scam. I purchased an outdoor garden shed from an ad on Facebook and paid $1,200 through PayPal. I received an email from the merchant with a USPS tracking number.

But there was a problem right off the bat. The USPS weight limit on packages is 60 pounds, so there is no way that this garden shed shipped via the postal service.

I received an alert from USPS that the shed had been delivered between 9 a.m. and noon. But when I got home, there was no shed in my driveway.

I called my post office and they tracked the shed to a different address. It was the same house number, but the street was about four blocks away. According to PayPal, the town name and ZIP code matched and there was a tracking number that shows it was delivered. So in their view, I received my shed.

The postal carrier even remembered the package because there was no specific name on it. It was addressed “Dear Resident.” I went to this neighbor’s home and I retrieved the package. The only thing in the envelope is a single page from the October issue of Costco’s Connection magazine! No shed.

This guy is a scammer and he’s using PayPal to conduct his scam. He knows that all he has to do is have the same town name, the correct ZIP code and a tracking number to prove delivery to PayPal. So he looks up the same house number in the same town but with a different street name and he sends some random “junk” piece of paper in the envelope addressed to “Dear Resident.”

I want my shed. Can you ask PayPal to get my money back from this scammer? — Sharon Keenan, Schnecksville, Pa.

Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Answer

You ordered a $1,200 garden shed and received a single page from a free Costco magazine — delivered to your neighbor? Yep, that sure sounds like a PayPal scam to me. At the very least, you’re entitled to a refund through PayPal.

I think you handled this problem by the book. You took pictures of the magazine page, kept the tracking information and wrote brief, polite emails to PayPal to get this resolved. Very nice work.

This isn’t the first case we’ve had involving merchandise sold through Facebook. You have to be careful when you’re buying merchandise online and using PayPal to pay. Look at the reviews and beware of too-good-to-be-true (or too-cheap-to-be-true) items.

“This scammer is using PayPal to conduct his scam.”

This is a clever little PayPal scam. The shipper sent something worthless to the wrong address. So if you dispute your PayPal charge, the scammer can easily say, “I delivered the merchandise. Here’s the proof!” When you tried to explain it to PayPal, it didn’t understand the problem. Everything lined up, as far as its system was concerned.

But you had photos and a long paper trail to prove that you were being ripped off. Unfortunately, PayPal wasn’t paying attention. The Elliott Advocacy research team publishes the executive email addresses for PayPal in our database. In your case, however, those contacts didn’t really do much good.

I contacted PayPal on your behalf. It reviewed your case and offered a $1,200 refund. Please don’t buy any more tool sheds — or anything else — through Facebook which attracts scammers en masse.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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