Amazon Marketplace Fraud Made Easy

Outsourced Customer Service Lets Unscrupulous Buyers Prey on Amazon’s Marketplace Sellers

Updated June 16, 2014: Amazon is threatening me again about having posted the buyer’s contact information which I did to warn others: “Failure to remove the information may result in immediate suspension or removal of your selling privileges.” When they do a better job at protecting and communicating with sellers, I’ll take this down.

Updated June 4, 2014: Kind of out of the blue (but probably related to collateral attention from this article), three months later – Amazon did the right thing and fixed this completely. I received this in email a short time ago:

Hello from Amazon.com.

My name is Brian L. and I am the Team Lead for the A-to-z Guarantee Claims Department. I reviewed the resolution to your claim associated with order number 112-xxxx-xxx and determined to reverse our initial decision regarding the resolution to this dispute. Based on your contacts and appeals for this dispute, we have issued a credit back to your account on June 4, 2014 in the amount of $159.20.

Please understand we are unable to reverse a refund a seller has issued through their account. For future returns, please ensure the correct item is received before issuing a refund to resolve the dispute. We hope you can accept our apologies for any inconvenience this transaction may have caused you, but you can consider this claim closed in your favor.

Thank you for selling on Amazon.com.

Web hosting at digital ocean Hilariously, when I replied to stop them from double crediting me, I received “Thank you for writing to us about the notice you recently received. Please note that this is an automated response to your message.”

Updated June 4, 2014: This piece is getting more attention inside Amazon finally. In the end, I challenged Amazon’s charge to my card with CapitalOne – and they fixed it right away. Neither did Amazon contest this. CapitalOne did what Amazon dysfunctionally would not. What’s in your wallet?

Original Post Begins Here

Thanks to outsourced and semi-automated customer service, inconsistent application of clear rules and ignorance of a variety of ambiguous, conflicting rules, Amazon’s made it easy for buyers to defraud sellers in its highly successful marketplace.

As I learned this past week, buyers just need to 1) request a return and then 2) file an A-Z Claim alleging that the item was different than described. Amazon’s marketplace customer service team then facilitates any fraud through its incompetence.

While Amazon says it retains emails between buyer and sellers “to help arbitrate disputes and preserve trust and safety“, in practice its apparently outsourced, largely automated customer service system ignores the majority of content of these emails and any that you send them. Essentially, the “streamlined” practices of the Amazon customer service team make it easy for buyers to defraud sellers.

In February, I sold a second generation Apple TV unit, valued at $199 to a buyer named Rayah “Abby” Aladdin. A week later, Aladdin requested a return saying, “Better price available, i brought this off someone on craigslist for way cheaper but you had already shipped it.” Then, Aladdin filed a false A-Z Claim Guarantee claiming that the item I shipped was different than described. In the end, Aladdin returned to me a used third generation Apple TV unit, valued at $65. Apparently, this practice is common; it’s called product laundering. From the seller forums, it seems that buyers often return empty packages or defective items in place of working ones.

By alleging I had sent the wrong item, Aladdin triggered Amazon to send me repeated emails warning me to accept the return and issue a refund or they would withdraw the funds from my account e.g. “Please let us know what the return/refund status is as soon as possible so that we may resolve this claim. Please note that failure to respond to this email within three business days may result in a debit to your Amazon.com account.

Aladdin Returned a Different Model

Aladdin Returned a Different Model Apple TV

Some sellers on the forums warned me to go pick up the package or be left empty handed. Amazon apparently often debits seller accounts even if they never receive their product back. So, I did. And, after verifying that the returned Apple TV worked, I issued a refund. However, I didn’t notice until a few hours later that Aladdin had returned to me a used, third generation unit, valued for much less. The model numbers on the Apple TV unit are engraved black on black in tiny 4 point font and I didn’t immediately notice that Aladdin had switched the outer packaging slip.

Even though it’s not actually documented, Amazon customer service insists that sellers accept any return for any reason within 30 days. For example, the actual returns guide says, “Amazon.com, and many sellers on Amazon.com, offer returns for most items within 30 days of receipt of shipment.” and “While most sellers offer a returns policy equivalent to Amazon.com’s, some seller returns policies may vary. Some sellers, such as wineries, won’t accept returns. However, they may provide refunds. You can view each seller’s return policy in the Online Returns Center.” But you can’t actually view them and neither can sellers document their return policy from within the Marketplace system, nor did I find a way to do this even after signing up for Amazon Payments.

I would like to inform you that we have a feature where sellers can cancel a refund within two hours of the issue. However, I deeply regret to inform you that once the two hours has expired we cannot revoke the refund.
Many sellers say that the Marketplace seller participation agreement spells out the thirty day return requirement, but it doesn’t. Here’s what it actually says, “You will promptly provide refunds and adjustments that you are obligated to provide under the applicable Amazon return policies and as required by law, and in no case later than thirty (30) days after the obligation arises.” But as shown above, those policies are not specific nor clearly described.

In practice, I found that Amazon customer service ignored all evidence that the buyer had lied. Amazon’s A-Z Claims guide says that claims may be denied if “The item received was the same as described by the seller” or if “The claim was filed due to buyer remorse rather than an actual issue with the item“.  I pointed out how the buyer’s first reason for return was price and that they specified a different reason for their A-Z claim. Aladdin said I’d sent a materially different item but in one email wrote they “never opened the box”. Finally, I pointed Amazon to the invoice with which I purchased my Apple TV showing my model # and the box UPC symbol Aladdin returned with a less valuable model. As Amazon continued sending emails threatening to withdraw the funds from my account, the content of my emails was repeatedly ignored and cases I opened were repeatedly closed.

Sellers in the forums have said that Amazon’s outsourced customer service team may not have English language capability. While I cannot say for certain, my semi-automated emails were signed Ayush Bir Tuladhar, Omair Shahid and Ashwin Alexander, amongst others.

At Amazon’s insistence, I issued the refund to Aladdin at 2:32 pm on Mar 13 and reported that the buyer returned the wrong model to me just hours later at 10:09 pm. And, this is where Amazon’s customer support responses began to read like Who’s On First … even as Amazon acknowledged the fraud, they said it was too late for them to reverse the refund … but it wasn’t too late for them to charge my credit card, which they did 48 hours later.

Mar 14 11:26 AM:
I’m truly sorry to hear of the situation regarding your recent transaction. I understand that the buyer for the order: 112-9787785-6306646 returned a different item than what you shipped and you only noticed after issuing a refund to the buyer.

I would like to inform you that we have a feature where sellers can cancel a refund within two hours of the issue. However, I deeply regret to inform you that once the two hours has expired we cannot revoke the refund.

Mar 14, 2014 12:15 PM
I would like to inform you that we are transferring you to a specialized team which handles concerns regarding A-Z claim.

Please know that when we transfer your case to the investigation team, this case will be closedbut a new case is created to the concerned team. Therefore, I kindly request you not to worry as you will be contacted by the appropriate department and they will address your concern, even if this case will be closed.

Mar 14, 2:25 PM:
We can certainly understand your concerns about this claim being closed. However, as stated in our previous message, unfortunately, we have no way of reversing a Marketplace Payments by Amazon reimbursement that you have made to your buyer. Once a reimbursement is complete, the transaction is essentially considered to be canceled.

We understand that you may not agree with the decision in this case, but we will not be able to assist you further. There will be no further response to your e-mail messages regarding this transaction.

Mar 14 3:09 PM:
I would like to inform you that our investigation team does not work according to case numbers. However, please be rest assured that they will contact you with regard to your concern. In case they do not contact you, you may contact the concerned team directly using the below emails: …

Mar 15 12:12 AM:
I understand that you want to know the status of the investigation regarding the buyer associated with order ID 112-9787785-6306646. Please be advised that we at Seller Support do not have any insight into the status of the investigation. Please be advised that you will have to write to the concerned team at seller-guarantee@amazon.com to know more about this issue.

I can certainly understand your concern in this regard. However, as advised earlier, if the Investigations Team does not contact you, you will have to write to the email address provided above to follow up on the issue. I hope that this has cleared up any confusion that you might have with this issue.

Please note: This e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

Mar 16, 2:18 AM:
We can certainly understand your concerns about this claim being closed. However, as stated in our previous message, unfortunately, we have no way of reversing a Marketplace Payments by Amazon reimbursement that you have made to your buyer. Once a reimbursement is complete, the transaction is essentially considered to be canceled.

Mar 16, 6:27 am:
We have charged your credit card (Visa) for the balance due on your account: -$146.45

Even if I had noticed within two hours that the buyer had returned a different model, Amazon’s customer service team wouldn’t have responded in time to allow me to revoke the refund. They would often take 10 to 12 hours just to respond by closing my case without responding to the content of my emails.

In practice, Amazon enforces a 30 day return policy on all marketplace sellers. In other words, sellers unwittingly offer Amazon buyers a 30 day price guarantee on all transactions – something its website says it does only for televisions on its own site.

In practice, Amazon’s customer service runs roughshod over sellers empowering unscrupulous fraudsters to easily prey on them.

While we can all understand the importance of protecting buyers, this seller quoted at Consumerist reminds Amazon that its Marketplace sellers are its customers too.

I’ve been a longtime Amazon Marketplace seller with a 4.5 of 5.0 rating, but I’m not sure I’ll continue using the service. I think the applicable motto with the Amazon Marketplace is not “Buyer Beware” but “Seller Beware.”

Amusingly, Amazon sent me a warning today that I’m not allowed to post the buyer’s information publicly. But apparently, they have no problem with fraud.

  • AMZSeller

    This is a tough balance, because the no-questions-asked return policy Amazon facilitates is partly the reason there are so many customers. For every scammer there may be 1000 good customers, BUT certain categories likely have a worse ratio – electronics, specifically smart phones are an example. As an Amazon seller, I personally would certainly rather have 1000 honest customers and 1 scammer, versus just 100 honest customers and no scammer. Its a volume business for Amazon as well.

  • Kimberly Peacock

    Well all I can say is buyers are getting taken a well. I stopped payment on a pallet of bottled water which when you tracked the ups shipment it says weighed 1.1 lb. How does a pallet of water bottled for which I was charged $504 weight 1.1 lbs? Amazon customer service is the worst and its not like you can speak to a specialist. I have purchased thousands of dollars from amazon over the years and never a problem and now this is how they treat me.

    If they did not have me tethered to them because of the thousands in ebooks I have purchased I would never do business with them again.

  • Mary

    I have just been hit with the A to Z claim fraud and since I am not a regular seller on Amazon and am just a private person, not a big business person, I had no idea what the problem was.

    I clearly described the very used condition of the book and marked it “used-very good.” Apparently, I should have said “used-good,” but I have been selling for ten years and never had any problems of complaints. I am honest and just describe the book very clearly and plainly in normal language. I really didn’t know that Amazon has rules on the the difference in the two phrases, and I thought it really was in very good condition.

    The buyer initiated communication by first threatening me with the claim if I did not give him at least 30% off the price. I thought he was joking, no way! He was very aggressive and threatening and I had no idea what he was talking about. If you bought the book as ‘already used and filled in,’ then that’s what you get.

    I said no, and he insisted. I said, if you don’t want the book send it back. No, I choose to keep it. Ok, then that’s that. No refund. Turns out, he is a professional textbook seller on Amazon and he had relisted my book for almost three times the paid price. He filed the claim and within hours, Amazon paid out. When I told them that he was selling my book for almost three times the price he paid, they didn’t seem to care. Apparently, reselling books is against Amazon policy but – no one is willing to do anything about this. Even with screen shots of my book on his page, they didn’t do anything. So this awful, predatory and abusive and insulting buyer is able to get my book, the price paid and his new 175% profit. And I have a terrible seller rating now, because of the claim. It doesn’t seem fair that honest people get exploited and Amazon favors the thieves. It makes me really upset still – very, very unfair. I just don’t understand how it is allowed and tolerated.

    • joe

      Who is the book seller, or at least, what town or city? Sounds like one to avoid. The predatory rise to the top. Or will soon, with Amazon.

  • Joe

    This Rayah “Abby” Aladdin is a shady character.

  • Saltwater Specialties Books

    Same here, I’ve been selling for years and now suddenly three different people claim they never received my books? Either media mail with USPS has stopped working, or the number of scammers are increasing fast. I predict the latter, and this will, in the future, hinder and lose many Amazon sellers. It already has for me; they shut me down because three cheap paperback books supposedly never arrived. Even with delivery insurance, there is no way to prove otherwise. Watch how fast this problem increases. Since my business is now shut down without warning by Amazon, and they still owe me funds, I’m selling my inventory and getting out of the business. Amazon is lavish and forgiving to the buyers, and very hard on the sellers. Sellers beware, you can be shut out of business by Amazon at the drop of a hat, and the reason is scammers.

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