So just to prove that we "computer guys" can't know everything about everything, here's a little story of how I got suckered on eBay.
I finally decided that my computer needed an upgrade and RAM is always the #1 choice (since I only had 1Gb, I knew I needed more). I started hunting around, but found out something unpleasant. In the year and a half since I built my computer, DDR RAM has been replaced by the newer DDR2 to the point that DDR is now twice as expensive!
While I was hoping to score 2Gb for around $70 (or less), the cheapest I could find was $100 (not including shipping)! Enter eBay. I watched a few auctions to see what prices people were getting for DDR RAM and it wasn't looking good. The prices were almost as high as retail.
After a few days, Something great happened! I saw a set of DDR RAM for only $26 each!
The picture showed a normal-looking RAM chip with a Samsung logo and the big words SALE SALE emblazoned upon it. The Auction was listed as "SAMSUNG 1GB DDR PC3200 400MHz 1 GB PC 3200 2700 184-Pin". That's the size and speed of RAM I wanted and Samsung is a good brand so I was thrilled!
I skimmed over the details of the memory because I know what memory is and what it does and went to the shipping and other policies. He listed a shipping price of $10 per stick and said that he wouldn't combine since their prices were so low. With a quick calculation, I found that two of the sticks including shipping would only be around $70 so I granted him this small dishonesty (Not combining shipping is such a scam after all. I mean really, does it cost a bookstore $3.50 for each book in a box? I don't think so).
So I'm excited to get my RAM upgrade and it finally comes! What the hell is this?
I didn't even open the plastic and went straight to the Internet to do some research. What I found was not encouraging. Apparently, there's this thing called "High Density RAM" that is cheap, generic, and incompatible with most motherboards.
When I went back to the auction, I found that, in the section where he includes a lot of basic RAM information that no one cares about like…
This is a 128M bit x 64 Double Data Rate SDRAM high density memory modules. The module consists of 128Mx4 bits16 CMOS with 4banks Double Data Rate SDRAMs in 66pin BGA packages mounted on a 184pin glass-epoxy substrate.
…he had a section in labeled "What is High Density" which I skipped over because I know what "High Density" means and I was more concerned about auction specific data, not stuff that was likely cut and pasted from a manufacturer website or some other auction.
It turns out that there's auction specific information in the "High Density" section and it contains some important disclaimers like:
- You are looking at a High Density (128X4 , 128X8) memory, which has a very low cost when compare to Low Density (64X8), but it has a very low compatibility
- No Asus motherboards can work with high density memory.
Hmm. That's kinda important don't you think? Ok, so this guy has a disclaimer, but I if this guy didn't intend to manipulate and mislead, he ended up doing a pretty damned good job by accident. Allow me to explain.
If I Did It…
If I were to try and foist off my high-density RAM which I know won't work for most people and most people won't want, I'm going to need to make them think that it's normal RAM. For the record, I'm not saying that he did this, but it's what I would do if I were a dirty thieving scumbag who wanted to trick people.
First, I'm going to tell you that it's Samsung memory and splash their logo around which isn't quite a lie because the chips on the generic memory card are Samsung brand after all.
Next, the only pictures I'll use will be of a completely normal, non-assuming stick of DDR RAM. It looks like every other stick of RAM around so naturally, people who shop entriely by sight will be caught immediately and for everyone else, it will still create a strong mental impression.
Pretend it's on Sale
Third, I'm going to pretend it's a big SALE by putting the words "SALE" on the picture and including text like this: "**Exceptional service and high quality products meet super low prices**" and "Lowest price Ever! Hurry before it gone, Biggest sale**" and
We will NOT combine shipping charges for multiple items purchase however we will ship in the same package. Consider your total cost by adding S&H. We are trying to offer you the lowest price as possible by cutting down the unnecessarily cost. We don't appreciate negative feedbacks because of the high S&H. [emphasis mine – JD]
That way, people won't realize that it's actually just cheaper memory that you can barely give away. They'll think it's standard memory that's on a good sale and that, hell, they're doing you such a favor that you shouldn't be such a louse to complain that they rip you off in shipping charges.
Hide the Bad Stuff
Lastly, I'm going to avoid getting in trouble for "false advertising" by having text that explains what High Density RAM is right there in with the rest of the text including a nice big red header. But if people acutally read this section, I'm not going to get any sales so I'm going to hide it in plain sight.
First, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that most eBay auctions contain a whole lot of details of the product cut and pasted from a manufacturer's site. Most people have figured this out and when they find what they need, they'll skip over this section and go straight to the auction specific information about shipping, returns, item condition and quality etc.
By sticking my disclaimer in the middle of the "basic non-auction specific" section of the listing, people are far more likely to assume that nothing in there is relevant data. But I've got that "Big Red Header" which might draw their attention.
To handle that, I'm not going to use "Check Your Compatibility", "Does Not Work With ASUS", or even "How High Density is different than Standard DDR". All those might give an impression I don't want so I'll just call it, "What is High Density". That's nice and generic and sounds like unimportant technical details like all the other text surrounding it. Hopefully, even if someone does notice the heading, they're not going to get the idea that it's really important.
Finally, I'm going to further separate the "Generic, but mostly unimportant information section" from the "Stuff that actually matters section" by using HTML columns and borders and a row of stars (**************) to divide the two visually.
Pulling it Together
If I did it right, you're going to think it's a normal brand of normal memory that just happens to be on a big sale. With my clever page division and hiding the really important information in with the technical details rather than the important auction related section (where important disclaimers and known compatibility issues should go), I've almost guaranteed that I'll sucker enough people to offload all of the memory or at least turn a profit by constantly shipping, returning, and reselling the memory with my overcharged shipping fees.
Getting a Refund
So of course, after learning I'd been suckered, I packed it right back up and sent it back to him which cost me $16 (including shipping confirmation and insurance). That's ok, I'll pay for my mistake, but I sent him an e-mail demanding a full refund including the shipping (which was $20 if you remember).
Which, of course, he's refusing because of his "Big Red Disclaimer". Well, I'm going to get my money one way or another and here's how:
Option 1: Be Nice
I want to try and convince him to refund it himself so the first thing I'll try is letting him know that listing it as Samsung memory and using their logo when it's not a Samsung product could be considered fraud or false advertising or something like that and eBay, PayPal, Samsung, and the California Attorney General's office (I know he's in California because of the shipping address) are sure to take notice.
I have a hard time believing he won't refund me $20 in the face of inquiries by these forces.
Once I get the refund, I'll contact the The Consumerist and maybe digg to advertise this issue, but I won't notify eBay or any of the others directly.
Option 2: Ask the Consumerist For Help
Assuming Option 1 fails, I'll try this instead:
Nothing like a little bad publicity and some weight from an established pro-consumer organization. They seem to be able to find phone numbers and contact info for people in the right places to get consumer issues solved. Rather than settle for a refund at this point, my goal will be to have his eBay account revoked unless he changes ALL of his auctions for High density to use a correct picture and put a proper disclaimer at the TOP of the auction.
Hopefully, the Consumerist and the people they know will convince eBay at least to take action to that effect. After all, my claim of intentional/unintentional confusion is valid and it wouldn't be a big deal to him to change his auctions as long as he wasn't trying to confuse people.
Option 3: Use my Credit Card's Protection
If all else fails, Credit cards often have buyer protection for situations like this. In this particular case, as someone who's unsatisfied with the quality of the product, all I have to do is prove that I've tried to get a refund and failed and they'll credit it back to me instead. They may do their own investigation or whatever, but the issue will be over as far as I'm concerned.
The Moral of The Story
No, it's NOT, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is". First of all, that's a very trite statement that's often wrong. Secondly, this didn't seem "too good to be true". It was a good discount from normal price, but not crazy or unbelievable. I expected the RAM sold through eBay to be lower than retail because if it wasn't no one would buy it anyway.
Instead, the moral here is that when you get screwed, don't give up and take it, fight back! Consumers have options and a well placed complaint or two can get a lot done.
I've sent the memory back. It's expected to arrive in 2 days. Once I get the majority of the refund, I'll press the issue of the shipping refund. Let's see how this turns out 🙂
He recieved it on 12/06 at 11am. It's been almost a week which I think is more than enough time to process a return so I sent him an e-mail saying "How soon should I see that refund". I haven't escalated since I haven't received any of the money yet, but I fully expect that he'll quote me some policy about not refunding until he gets positive feedback. That would be a mistake, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.