On Sept 13, 2021, I was served a Facebook ad for $79 laptops.
The comments on the ad are all from the same time period, from many different people, and include photos of laptops purportedly purchased from seller. Commenters describe how great the laptops are, and the seller is answering questions.
The ad points to a website with a curious domain: httpx://gaybondagetube.com/ – it’s not porn, or at least is not currently, and is set up as an online store. There are a few different Dell laptop models to choose from. The prices are all under $100. What a deal!
Payment is only accepted via PayPal. There is only one shipping method.
Now, this is all obviously fake. If a price is too good to be true, then it’s not real, right? But, the fact that they only accept PayPal had me intrigued. After all, PayPal is famous for its Guarantee: https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/paypal-safety-and-security
I figured I’m either going to get a really cheap laptop or I’m going to get refunded by PayPal when it obviously doesn’t show up – I go ahead and order one, paying $99 through PayPal backed by my credit card. With credit card protection on top of PayPal, I shouldn’t be out any actual funds. I get a random discount of 10%!
After checkout, there is no order confirmation email and I didn’t screenshot the order page.
A short while later, the PayPal charge comes through for $113. This is weird because that’s higher than the total at checkout. There is no explanation for the additional $14.85. I’m willing to let it slide and see what happens.
After a week with no communication, no tracking information, I get tired of waiting around and file a dispute with PayPal. I select the option that says the item was never received. PayPal contacts the seller. After a few days, PayPal closes the dispute in the seller’s favor! The seller provided a tracking number through the dispute which showed it was delivered in my zip code!
The tracking number shows something was shipped a few days after my order via DHL from Hebron, KY – this fits with the narrative the seller provided in response to a question comment on the Facebook ad.
After a few days, the package reaches my local post office and is marked as Delivered in/at my mailbox, the day before I opened the dispute! Amazing!
I check my security cameras – thankfully we did have packages delivered that day so I have an image of our mail carrier leaving the mail & packages on our porch – not in our mailbox as the tracking indicated. After she delivered them, I went out and immediately brought them in. Spoiler alert, I don’t remember opening a package containing a laptop. And nothing was left in the mailbox.
Now that I have the tracking number, I dig through the recycling to find the boxes that were delivered that day. The tracking number obviously doesn’t match any of them. This is good, but I start to panic. USPS tracking says it was delivered, but I don’t have it, and PayPal only cares that it was “delivered”. I’m sure the mail carrier didn’t lose it or steal it, she’s great – but maybe that’s what the seller is angling for.
At this point, I plan to visit the post office to have a chat.
Paying a visit
At the post office, I state my issue and provide the tracking number. I’m handed a receipt showing that both the origin and destination is my zip code. This does not make any sense. They verbally tell me that the recipient of the package for that tracking number is not my home address. They write on the receipt the phone number of the USPS Inspector General so I can lodge a complaint.
Also seen on the receipt is the class of service: the seller used Parcel Select Light Weight which is for items weighing under 1 pound – the shipment is listed as being 6.7 ounces. Clearly not a laptop.
I start doing some more research – the PayPal community forum has a thread that lines up with my experience, even down to the “random discount”. Different website, yet always the same 163.com domain for the seller email address: https://www.paypal-community.com/t5/Security-and-Fraud/Is-that-legit-Dell-Inspiron-17-7000-i7-11th-generation-for-88/m-p/2664021/highlight/false#M3746
In the forum thread, they describe receiving masks or some other small item, not a laptop. I didn’t receive anything.
I open a new dispute with PayPal choosing to report unauthorized activity – PayPal helpfully will not let you choose “Item not received” again on a transaction where a dispute was already closed for that same reason. PayPal again declines my dispute because the activity was authorized. Fair, I suppose.
Now I’m irritated because the seller has obviously figured this out – they can always get PayPal to find in their favor if they can provide a tracking number showing successful delivery in the recipient’s zip code. PayPal doesn’t have access to see the exact destination address, only the Post Office can, so PayPal always finds in the seller’s favor and closes the disputes when tracking said an item was delivered.
Never gonna give up
Time to start hammering away at the PayPal customer service message center. To bypass the automated PayPal Assistant I ignore its options and type “customer service”. I lay it all out. Dozens of furious and irritated messages. Hours later, PayPal Support asks me to talk to the post office again and request documentation on official letterhead which indicates I was not the recipient of the package.
Paid a visit to the post office again, provide the printed message from PayPal Support with what they need, and waited a few days.
After not hearing anything until mid-week, I call the post office. I speak with a supervisor who takes the tracking number again, understands what I’m asking, and says he’ll investigate. A few days later, I get a call from the supervisor saying he’s going to mail me a letter with his findings. He doesn’t say what he found.
The next day (almost a month after the original transaction at this point), the letter arrives from the Post Office and it’s everything I needed – official letterhead, tracking number, saying it was delivered in my zip code, but not to my address.
I take a photo of the letter and upload it to the PayPal Support thread.
Finally, days later, I bother PayPal Support again and upload the photo of the letter again.
Bam, they refund me the $113.
So that was a giant waste of time, and I hope PayPal investigates the other transactions with that seller because certainly they are all fraudulent, even though the seller can somehow provide a tracking number with successful delivery in the recipient’s zip code.
Some questions remain –
- Who in my zip code received the item that was sent?
- What was sent?
- How did the seller arrange something to go through DHL and then the post office? And why bother?
- How does the seller feel knowing they lost this battle?
You know it was a scam, right?
And to answer the obvious, I knew when I was placing the order that it was a scam, but hey, we can hope, right?