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PayPal’s Thuggery

All in the name of security, of course. We used to be big PayPal fans. Not anymore.

Be careful using PayPal (PP) from Costa Rica. After our recent experiences, I’d be careful using PP anywhere. We have had business/personal PP accounts since 2000. We’d bought and sold coins on ebay, some other stuff. Never big money, but the account was very useful.

When we got to Costa Rica, it was a great way to get cash from the states using our debit card, fee only $1.

When my mom moved here, she had a Netbank account. Then Netbank went under and, 2 Nov 07, we opened a PP account for mom, transferring her $3,000 from Netbank to PP.

All these accounts – mom’s and ours – were verified with bank accounts and credit cards. Our business account has all the bells and whistles, good long time buyer/seller stars and comments… the whole nine yards.

Last fall/winter sometime (and this is a guess because PP won’t tell you anything), we are presuming PP started monitoring IP addresses when accessing accounts.

Three times in the last four months, PP has frozen my mom’s account, for over two weeks each time, this last time for almost a month. When they freeze your account, you cannot get your money out.

You’ll also never know why they did it. They just take your money and hang onto it. You can’t even transfer your own money into your own bank account that has been verified by them!

To unfreeze your account, they request you re-verify yourself by sending in copies of your passport, changing your password, your security question, copies of your D.L., they make a charge on your cc with a code, you have to enter that code when you get the statement. They deposit pennies in your bank account with a code and you have to enter that code when it shows up on your statement. They want you to call from your phone, but if that phone doesn’t have a U.S. address with your name attached – dong: invalid. They mail something to your credit card address with a secret code… I can’t remember now all the things we had to do.

We jumped through all hoops, calling on the ones that were impossible to complete. For instance, Vonage doesn’t provide a U.S. address listed in the yellow pages… This is all news to PP, they don’t know how to process this information. "Someone can have a U.S. phone number without having a U.S. address in the yellow pages?"

I explained that we were living in Costa Rica, blah blah blah. They would NEVER tell me why they froze our accounts. Unfreezing them took more than just jumping through the hoops in their resolution center; I had to spend a couple of hours on the phone each time, not all at once.

Since my mom’s account was first frozen last December – just before Christmas, BTW, so she could not shop for grandchildren – all our other accounts have been frozen at least once. We’ve unfrozen them by jumping through numerous hoops, but when a company can freeze your assets over and over again, without telling you why, even after you call and tell them where you are…

We access our bank accounts online all the time and have never had a bank account frozen.

After this last time mom’s account was unfrozen, just last week, after a month of being frozen, we transferred every penny from PP to her bank account quicker than you can say "security issue." Or "Security issue that we are not going to reveal to you. Ever." Freezing my mom’s money like that, over and over again, has been very stressful for her, and for us.

We are looking for another option for our accounts. We’ll keep using bank accounts and those debit cards, but if anyone knows of another service like PP, please share it. Preferably one not centered in the U.S. where nothing is too great an inconvenience, nothing too much to ask, nothing too much to relinquish in the name of security. National or not.

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19 comments to PayPal’s Thuggery

  • Arp

    Thuggery is the right word. They wouldn’t even let Trish change the name on her account after we got married, telling us to just start a new account though it meant losing all the Ebay feedback we’d earned. I’m very leery of Paypal.
    Now are these Paypal accounts that you opened in CR or in the US? If you’ve done both, do you notice any difference in getting screwed? I’m curious to hear more tales of woe from others.

  • Mom’s was opened from Costa Rica, the others from the US. Years ago. No difference in getting screwed, except that Mom’s was closed so often… Even though her account was only ever accessed from one computer here. It was ridiculous.
    How can you trust a company to keep your funds secure if they don’t have the wherewithal to know how to change a person’s name to their married name? Or to know about the technology of Vonage? Or to compensate for a customer in another country?
    It’s the newness of the problem that makes me think it’s an IP thing… I can’t think of anything else. Can’t wait to find something else…

  • Arp

    I’ve been looking into various payment gateways so that all my eggs aren’t in one basket. Did you know that Amazon accepts payments too? Lots of people have Amazon accounts, though maybe not as much as Paypal. If I recall, the fee was pretty decent too.

  • DJ

    Whatever you do, don’t try ING Direct! They locked up my account (with nearly 10k in it) for EIGHT MONTHS, because they said I no longer have a “valid USA address.” I called because the hard drive was stolen out of my computer during shipping from the USA to CR, and because there was some financial information on that drive, I was *trying* to mitigate the damages. That’ll teach me, right?
    It was news to me that I was no longer a resident of the US, as I hadn’t changed my US address. Besides that, the last I knew, US citizens were allowed to travel anywhere, for any length of time we want. Until recently, apparently. When are they going to seal the borders from within? Should that happen, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me in the least. All they’d have to tell Americans is that it’s for “national security,” and they’d go along with it for the illusion of “safety.”
    Anyway, my “dislike” of the USA is no secret, but it’s off subject (sort of)…
    ING Direct actually told me “There’s nothing we can do.” I said “You mean ING intends to just keep my money?” to which their telephone customer service imbecile said “Well, YOU deposited the money to us!” My hand to god, that’s what he said. I replied “I certainly had no inkling at the time that my savings account would belong to ING forever. That should be in your Terms of Service, and then I’m sure more people will avoid opening an account with you.”
    Here’s more of the story, since I can’t put myself through recalling it all again:
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/01/you_cant_get_there_from_here.php
    …if you have the stomach for it. I *did* get my money back once I lead them to that URL, by the way – but why should that have been necessary? “Oh, Ms. – we didn’t realize you were close friends with a famous political writer! Wrong victim – so sorry!”
    So, the vast majority of my money (if you don’t count the value of property), is in a Costa Rican bank and, by the way, I am not feeling any more secure with that than with a USA bank, “online” or not. In fact, every time I log in I’m surprised to find it’s still there, minus whatever fee they’ve recently thought up, that is.
    CR isn’t “better” than the US – the BS is just different; “big brother” is many “little brothers” in CR. Everyone has their hand out – it’s just a matter of how big that hand is. At first the difference seems nice (akin to having a sore toe, and hitting your finger with a hammer – [oh, let's not get into CR's beloved hammers - the national anthem should be "If I Had a Hammer"] – for the first few seconds it feels better because the pain has moved to a different location), but in the end, it’s all “in the end” – and it doesn’t much matter which country is “doing” you in the end, or why, in my opinion.
    Please don’t say “then why not leave?” – I’m here for my job. I came to CR with no preconceptions at all. I’d never been anywhere in Central America, and came here with a totally open attitude, actually expecting to like it. And it’s beautiful – I even like the rain. If there was any consideration that people might be trying to sleep at 6 a.m., I’d have been perfectly happy to stay and help CR’s economy by overpaying for rent (grin).
    I don’t know what the solution is, if any. I’d hate to see CR do as the US has and make laws for every little thing. On the other hand, I would like to sleep sometime.
    Sorry for going off-subject, anyway.

  • robin

    There is another coming in to give pp some competition. It’s called revolution money exchange. as of yet, far as I know, it doesn’t have a debit card, but more and more people are starting to take it. It’s a slow process. If you email me for a link you can get 25. credited to your acct. – then you can move it to your bank. pp did that when they first started too. I don’t know that I’ll keep rme but I have the sign up bonus. lol. I’ve not had any probs w/ pp but I know people that have and someone in canada was trying to refund me recently (along w/ several other people) and it flagged their security and caused a huge headache so it’s not just CR apparently.
    Gotta get to work but if you want that link email me.

  • Sounds very frustrating. I have never used pay pal and don’t even know what it is used for. When traveling I use mostly my debit cards (American and European) and if I stay longer somewhere, like now in Puerto Rico, and have a local income I open a local bank account with a debit/credit card and use it locally.

  • Sally — ugh, frustrating. To understate it.
    DJ — nice rant! Loved it! I always was a sucker for some good old fashioned radical honesty uncomplicated by any victim positioning — which you did so nicely here!

  • well that makes me feel great about the PP account I just opened! There are other online merchant account options, but the costs add up.. Paypale seemed too good to be true!

  • Miri

    We had a similar problem when we moved to Puerto Rico and were trying to transfer money from the UK to the US via Paypal. My husband opened a paypal account with our local account information (and addresses), I sent him money and both our accounts were promptly frozen… I think the IP address theory is right on the money (no pun intended…). It took a few weeks and finally a very angry phone call (emails go to a center in India and are a waste of time) to the resolution department to sort things out. There are phone numbers for paypal on http://paypalsucks.com/ but most have been disconnected by now or go straight to voice mail. The best way to sort things out is to insist on talking with someone in the resolution department. Prepare to be on hold for about an hour…

  • Keith

    I have had no problems with paypal but only use it for ebay transactions and it is linked to my checking account. I use a Chase account to pay bills, wire money, transfer money. ING like discount brokers save money by having virtually no customer service. Whenever choosing anything from a cell phone on up I try and find out what access to there customer service is like, so when there is a problem I won’t be on hold for two hours. That’s why I have stuck with the big multinational banks, when I have had a problem I call and they give me the benefit of the doubt, put the money back until they investigate. 25 years of banking and never a problem in the US or Europe, I would hesitate to put money into a Costa Rican bank though. I love CR for it’s waves and natural resources not it’s modern services or infrastructure, the capitalist pigs back home have that figured out pretty efficiently. When you think how smoothly our (US) systems function from mail delivery, utilities, banking all commerce in general it is quite a wonder-across 50 states and almost 300 million souls…not bad? So paypal screws up a few times…accept they are a giant bureaucracy handling millions of accounts with thousands of employees sheesh, cut them a little slack not everything is a conspiracy! Those who resist life find they deal with the most resistance from life, go with the flow joe! Life is wonderful for most of you, flying and working all over the world, try not to make it into a hell you’ll live a lot longer.

  • Hi Arp, thanks for the heads up on Amazon – didn’t know that. I also just found Neteller. They told me right up front they check ip addresses, but they don’t have any US customers because of the gambling laws. Which means you can’t access neteller from the US. Interesting… But fine with me! And I’ll check out revolution money with robin… love the name! Paypal has lost us.
    DJ – LOVE the rant. The longer I am out of the US, the more clearly I see it…. You are welcome to go off topic anytime. Chatting with my expat buddies here, whether online or in person, we all have the same growing discomfort with the US and how it handles its citizens.
    Minerva, we have a local account here with a debit card – only way to go. We don’t have much money in it, but if you are going to live locally, you need your money here.
    Cindy – ditto!
    Bryon, I felt the same way. But there are other options. I think as long as you don’t keep too much money there, it can be convenient. And the more I investigate, the more I believe it’s the IP address… there is just nothing else to hang it on.
    Hi Miri – sorry to hear it. I feel your pain. I hope to never be on hold with PP again…
    Hey, Keith, If the money in my mom’s PP account had not been ALL her money, and if they didn’t have it locked away from her off and on for two out of four months, it would have been easier to go with the flow.
    You are right: everything is not a conspiracy. But if I’m not completely paranoid, how will I know the wheat from the chaff???? Ok, just kidding. I am going to make an effort to allow huge bureaucracies to screw up and still have merit. As long as they don’t have my money.
    Sounds like you’ve heard “what you resist, persists.” I think I heard that in est… I’ll have to remember that next time I’m resisting. Thank you for the reminder!

  • Keith

    Sara,
    Of course it’s harder to go with the flow when you’re the one being screwed!Lol. Really I’m just saying nothing works 100%, and when there is a breakdown just keep this in mind…Of course there are instances where some service provider is just awful, then I agree it may be time to cut and run and blog away. This reminds of of when I was paying my health insurance premiums and one day I get a call from the agent. He tells my policy was cancelled 11 months ago they never mailed me or called until then. Why? They claim they did not have my contact information…? So they wanted to refund the 11 months of payments they received from me, that was nice of them. Well unfortunately I had closed the business and bank accounts of my company. I still had the company name, just not the physical space and a bank account, eventually I would have switched back to my name, I’m sure that would have been fun! The problem was the insurance was in my companies name and they would only refund the funds in a check made out to this now defunct entity. I spent a few hours on the phone trying to explain this they refused to make the check out to anyone but my former company’s name. Long story short I filed the appropriate papers and opened up a bank account in the name on the refund check, more a pain in the a** than anything else. But rather than try to use common sense to go up against this giant and beat my head against the wall I worked around them. Not sure what the point of telling you this is but it seems to fit in here somewhere?

  • I’m a big fan of righteous indignation, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” kinda gal, which just keeps me from going with the flow, of course. If I couldn’t expose the injustices in the world… whatever would I do with my time??? OK, I’d think of something…
    One of the best things about the internet is that injustices can no longer be kept secret. From bad plastic surgeons to poor customer service to immoral governments, incompetences big and small cannot be tucked away in a dark corner. I love that. Will my rant hurt paypal? Will DJ’s rant hurt ING? Probably not. But were those companies ever going to tell you they can lock away your money without so much as a fare the well, out of your reach until THEY are satisfied you are who you say?
    OK, now I’m goin’ again… taking a deep breath. I’ve had my say, time to move on. Thank you for the chat, Keith, and the words of wisdom. There’s a balance in here somewhere…

  • Jonathan

    There is also ePassporte.com. I’ve used them for a couple years now and haven’t had any problems. You can get one of their Visa cards and use that to purchase anywhere Visa is accepted. You can also transfer to US banks (only US at the present time) if you have one so you’re not keeping too much in there. Of course there are fees for each transaction but it’s really not too much.

  • JT

    Remember Billpoint? That was Ebay’s competition to PayPal.
    Remember all the users filling up the ebay boards with complaints about Billpoint?
    Remember all the users on the boards suggesting that Billpoint users use a superior system like PayPal?
    Remember when Ebay would shut down auctions if sellers promoted PayPal in their auction listings?
    If you can’t beat em’, buy em.
    Ebay buys PayPal. Ebay is an auction site. Billpoint was a flop. Nuff’ said.
    A general suggestion, ymmv.
    1. Never leave money you can’t afford to lose in your paypal account.
    Payment Services:
    http://auctionbytes.com/cgi-bin/charts/chart.pl?Online_Payment_Services

  • Thank you, JT. Don’t think we could really make it working on the internet and not using PayPal… I will take your advice to heart! And thanks for the link.

  • And thank you Jonathan for epassporte – I’m signing up for them all!

  • JT

    Thanks for the response, just found this interview with a PP exec and thought of your post, check the comments if you get a chance.
    Quick Query: PayPal Exec On Payment Disputes
    http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/709/Quick-Query-PayPals-Director-of-Online-Dispute-Resolution/

  • Thanks! Those comments are interesting reading… sorry to hear I’m not alone.