EBay users fight ongoing billing hassles

Fran Weidman has been meticulous about her EBay account while auctioning vintage dolls for the past seven years. So when EBay claimed her account was 60 days past due and barred her from additional listings, she was very surprised.

The problem was not with Weidman's account, especially since she has a credit card on file to automatically pay her monthly invoice. It has been a recurring problem for some users since EBay began migrating to a new billing system earlier this year.

She's not alone, and at least one customer is taking to the streets in protest.

EBay is aware of the ongoing problems, says Hani Durzy, an EBay spokesperson.

"We continue to work on addressing the glitches that have come up since we implemented the new billing system," he says.

EBay will not comment on what may be causing them or how many users may be affected. "Our technical team is aware of what's causing many of the problems," he says, but declines to specify further.

Initially, users reported double charges on their invoices, a problem Durzy says has been fixed. But many users describe ongoing and escalating problems, including incorrect totals on their monthly invoices, the inability to access their invoices online, and -- like Weidman -- exclusion from new auctions because of erroneous invoices. Many sellers say a lack of communication from EBay compounds the problem.

Footing the bill

Weidman was one of the users double-billed on the March invoice. She says that EBay first addressed the issue through a general posting on the company's announcement board on April 8, and that she got a personal e-mail from EBay on April 9. In that e-mail, which she forwarded to PC World, EBay acknowledged the errors in her invoice and assured her it would adjust the balance before deducting the fees from her credit card.

"Over the next few days, the double charges were slowly credited back to my account," she says. "So I simply waited for them to charge my card. And waited."

EBay did not charge her credit card until early June -- when the bill was already labeled 60 days past due. When the charges appeared, they were for only a portion of the money she owed.

"Although I now owed EBay US$243.61, (AU$348.90) EBay only charged US$107.14 (AU$153.45) to my credit card on June 9. I have no idea how they came up with this amount," she says.

"It's been difficult to reach them, and there are no phone numbers to call." She complains that EBay didn't react until sellers complained.

Still working on problems

Weidman's inability to list new items was a problem that affected "a small subset" of EBay sellers, confirms EBay's Durzy. An automatic trigger prevented these users from listing items because the system considered their accounts past due, he says.

"Once we became aware of the problem, we immediately began the process of manually overriding it," he says.

"It lasted anywhere from 12 to 72 hours, but most users were on the short end of that."

Durzy also disputes claims that EBay is slow to notify users of problems.

"As soon as we started to see these glitches coming through, we notified people," he says. "Communication is so important at EBay. We have dozens of chat rooms, we're constantly communicating. When this billing issue came up, we knew sellers would be unhappy and we vowed to stay in contact with them. It's a matter of opinion how much communication is not enough or too much. It's a fine line."

The initial problem -- duplicate charges on sellers' invoices -- was fixed within days for many of the sellers, Durzy says. "For a smaller number of sellers, it took a little longer to fix, but now the double-billing issue has been fixed."

Since fixing that problem, the company has found new issues, he admits. "On a person's account status page -- the My EBay page -- the items aren't necessarily appearing twice, but the two balances on the page are out of sync. The current balance and the running balance, which show at the top and the bottom of the page, should be in sync, and in some cases they aren't. Users aren't being billed twice."

Often the line items are correct, but the balances are wrong, he adds. "We know that this can be frustrating."

E-mail onslaught

Mark Fearson, an EBay seller from Milwaukee, agrees the problems are frustrating.

"My EBay days may be done," says Fearson, who has been selling CDs on EBay for more than five years.

Fearson's problems began in April, when he noticed the balance on his invoice jumped US$400 (AU$572.95) overnight. But, Fearson says, "That was only part one."

On the evening of May 14, he found four e-mail messages from EBay notifying him that his scheduled listing had begun -- a listing that had come and gone back in March. Identical messages began arriving, one per minute, for more than 24 hours. In total, Fearson received more than 1,000 identical e-mail messages from EBay. "It was crazy, and it ruined my weekend," he says.

While the onslaught was annoying, it was also expensive. For each e-mail he received, EBay charged Fearson's account 40 cents -- the price for listing the item the e-mail referenced. In all, his account was overcharged by more than US$400 (AU$572.95), an error he says still has not been completely rectified.

EBay's Durzy says he cannot be certain whether problems with the new billing system were responsible for Fearson's problems. He has not heard of a similar incident affecting another EBay user.

Picket line

Nancy Spaulding, an EBay seller from North Ridgeville, Ohio, decided to push her complaints up a notch. She, too, experienced problems with invoices, and though they were resolved, she was dissatisfied with EBay's communications.

She plans to carry a picket sign outside this week's EBay Live conference in New Orleans. She contacted the New Orleans police to ensure her demonstration is legal, and posted information about it on EBay's message boards.

"I've heard from people who support me, but say they can't afford to go to New Orleans," she says. "If I'm the only one there, it only takes one person."

Durzy says he is aware of the protest plans.

"Whether they protest outside is entirely up to them," he says. "There will be opportunities to talk about billing issues at EBay Live. We acknowledge that this is frustrating for them, as well as for us. We would encourage them to come inside and talk to us, to give us feedback."

Durzy says he does not know when the problems will all be resolved. "There's not a specific date that we are pegging. We continue to work on it, and we have fixed the vast majority of issues that have come up," he says.

Meanwhile, EBay's customer support staff is aware of the ongoing problems and is available to help, he says. "We sympathize and wish that this had not happened, but glitches do happen. The best that we can do is to not charge people until we know how much they do owe."

Unfortunately for Weidman, that policy didn't help. She ended up making a one-time payment to EBay using her credit card to resolve her account and begin listing items again. But then her May invoice didn't reflect her payment.

"Now I'm just waiting to see if I get charged again for the same amount I've just paid," she says. "I'm holding my breath to see what happens."

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Liane Cassavoy

PC World

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