After the highest bidder on eBay offered Jordan Allison £600 for his mobile phone he dutifully packaged it up and sent it off by registered post. However, although Royal Mail’s website showed it had been signed for, the buyer claimed it hadn’t arrived. When Allison sent proof of delivery the buyer said he had received the parcel after all, but instead of a phone it contained an unlikely cargo: beetroot.

“I had proof – the weight of package and photos – that I hadn’t sent beetroot,” says Allison, who is from Irvine in Ayrshire. “But the buyer opened a case against me on eBay. I called eBay and asked if I needed to do anything. It said I would be contacted. A month later I received an email, not from eBay but from PayPal, to say £600 had been removed from my account.”

What had happened is an experience grimly familiar to many eBay sellers. The company had found in the buyer’s favour without asking for any evidence, according to Allison. Not only did the buyer receive a full refund, but the seller has been left with no phone. After The Observer intervened, eBay agreed to refund Allison, although it insists there was no evidence of fraud.


Critics claim the auction website’s measures to protect buyers from dodgy transactions have left sellers at the mercy of fraudsters who can manipulate the system to effectively steal goods.

Ebay claims its 1,500-strong resolution team has tools to monitor and flag up suspect behaviour. However, in Barr’s case it was only when the Observer intervened that eBay revisited the case and discovered the buyer had a history of manipulating the system. It has now refunded Barr.

It says the complaint was originally handled “in line with eBay Money Back Guarantee guidelines” which advise buyers to provide a tracking number to show that a disputed item has been returned. It’s a system open to fraud since the tracking number doesn’t show what was in the parcel and eBay doesn’t ask.