First off, I’ll own up. All the warning signs were there, and I flat out ignored them. In hindsight, I’m a moron. Let’s just get that out of the way. Now, the story:
My kid loves cars. He goes crazy anytime he sees one of these Cozy Coupes at a kiddie play center or a friend’s house. He makes a beeline, grabs ahold of the steering wheel, and sits there smiling his toothy smile for hours. His little playmates line up for their turn, but he doesn’t give a poopy diaper. He just lounges on the driver’s seat, his arm over the red door, smushing his miniature palm into the red horn.
My fiancée and I decided it was time to get one of our own. After a few online searches, we found an awesome deal on a Cozy Coupe Truck. A really, really awesome deal. Like, this deal was half the price of the next closest seller.
That was the first warning sign.
The online store website was ‘yourbabytoy.com.’ Not Amazon, eBay, Target, or Walmart. This was a random online shopping website that had a listing of seemingly thousands of baby toys and was named, in the most bland, uncreative way possible, Yourbabytoy.com.
Warning sign #2.
On checkout, shipping cost was a whopping 99 cents. Once assembled, the Cozy Coupe Truck stands maybe three feet high. The whole mess of molded plastic assembly parts probably weighs 10 pounds combined. This random site was asking the equivalent of a McDonald’s Cheeseburger to put this plastic hunk on planes and semi-trucks traveling hundreds of miles to my doorstep.
I already told you, I’m a moron. Glad we covered that. Back to the story:
The first thing I noticed was that the order receipt didn’t have an estimated shipping date. I emailed email@example.com basically asking, ‘Dude can you let me know when I can expect this to arrive?’ No response.
Then PayPal confirmed my payment and gave me the email address of the seller.
At this point, I’m thinking Ooookay, maybe yourbabytoy.com is an Etsy type site, made up of a network of individual toy peddlers?
I sent the seller an email, too. No dice.
The next day PayPal tells me my order’s been updated with a shipment tracking number. It says my order’s expected to arrive the next day. I tell my fiancée about this pleasant surprise and we do a little happy dance.
The delivery day comes and goes, and the delivery never shows up at my door.
Except. The tracking number says the shipment’s been delivered.
Perplexed, I send the seller an email: Have I missed something?
Then I check yourbabytoy.com. The browser takes a bit long to load, so I try again. The site fully loads this time, and tells me that “The store is currently unavailable due to maintenance.”
My palms begin to perspire as I write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org explaining the situation and asking for clarification. Minutes later, a new message pops into my inbox. It says there was a problem delivering my message to email@example.com and that gmail will retry for 19 more hours…
At this moment I’m Bruce Willis at the end of the Sixth Sense. All the warning signs from before flash before my eyes. I stumble from my chair and take deep and heavy breaths as the full weight of the realization hits me: I’ve been scammed.
Eventually, I regroup. I’m not gonna take this lying down. It’s an online order. This scammer’s left a trail of crumbs on the internet; all I have to do is shine a light on ‘em for the appropriate authorities to see.
Unfortunately, ‘appropriate authorities’ in this case meant PayPal, and ‘shining a light’ meant venturing into the hellmaze that is PayPal’s resolutions center and customer service. When Dante wrote Inferno he was *probably* foreseeing 21st century corporate customer service systems.
I take the first step by making a claim for a refund on my payment on the basis that I never received my order. Less than a week later, PayPal denies my claim. The reason? They received information from the seller that confirms my shipment’s been delivered.
The tracking number I’d received.
But.. but… I never got the package! The tracking number’s a sham! I lamely protest in my head.
I finally collect myself together enough to think to reach out to UPS about the tracking number. They ask for my delivery address to see if it matches the one on the number. It doesn’t. It’s addressed to a business instead, and doesn’t have my name on it either. All this information is exchanged via emails, a neat paper trail of evidence.
Boom. The smoking gun. I’ve really got this scammer now.
I go back to the PayPal resolution center, excited to bring down this scammer. But there’s a problem. I can’t make any new claims on the purchase—the one claim I’m apparently allowed to make has been denied already. There’s no option to appeal either.
I descend further into the hellmaze. A call and a 20 minute wait gets me to Jenn, a customer service agent. After I explain the situation she quickly understands and says that with new information I can appeal the claim. She’ll make a change so that I’ll now see an appeal option. After hanging up, I get an email with instructions. But when I follow them, there’s no appeal option.
I respond to the email asking for help. Another customer service rep, Yogendra, responds. No worries, she says, she’s gone ahead and appealed my claim for me.
But… my emails! I weakly protest at my screen. I haven’t shared the copies of emails from UPS disputing the validity of the tracking number with UPS. How can the appeal be made without this new evidence? I respond to the email explaining the situation, attaching the emails from UPS.
Almost immediately PayPal notifies me my claim has been denied again. Then, in response, Melina from Protection Services Department responds to my message saying that they’re reviewing my case. I go back to the resolution center and can only see that my claim’s under review, but there’s no information on the content of the appeal. I still have zero clue if my UPS emails are being considered in my appeal. Right on cue I get another denial notification from PayPal.
I send more follow up emails and receive responses from two more PayPal lackeys, Biswanath and Gaurav. There’s no continuity nor humanity in the responses I receive. It’s an endless string of different humans mimicking robots, telling me in form template messages that my case is either being denied or under review.
I’m hopelessly lost in the hellmaze. Every turn I make, I run into a dead end. I’m locked into a soulless cycle, engaging with the faceless soliders of PayPal’s customer service army. I am Bill Murray, waking up to Groundhog Day every morning.
After the sixth cycle I decide to step out of the hamster wheel.
Honestly, I’m embarrassed. I’ve established I’m a moron, but that’s probably understating it. Internet scams were only supposed to happen to the elderly ranks of society—grandmas sending cash to random Nigerian Princes emailing for help. I’m a millennial. An avocado toast munching, grew-up-with-dial-up-internet millennial. My youthful hubris led me to believe this could never happen to me. It made me a perfect target. It’s a lesson learned.
I’m also pissed. I don’t even care about the money. That’s lost, I’m never getting it back. But what really bothers me is that this scammer got away with it. They’re probably out there plotting their next internet con, purchasing domains like awesomeelectronicgadgets.com and freecaribbeanvacations.com. Hundreds of others might be ripped off by this thief on the loose. It makes me furious just thinking about it. And it feels like PayPal and its convoluted customer service labyrinth stood by and let it happen. Heck, they helped grease the wheels a little, facilitating the transaction. They’re complicit. I know this blog isn’t going to magically prompt PayPal to transform their customer service system into something that even remotely works. But hopefully some of you will read this and learn from my mistakes.
In the end my fiancée found a beat up used Cozy Coupe on Facebook Marketplace. It’s dirty, has scuffs and scratches, all the stickers have long peeled off, and the door doesn’t stay shut.
But you should have seen the face on our kid when he first saw it in our garage. It was enough to make me forget the scumbag scammer, PayPal’s hellmaze, and the money I lost.