US online retailers can use a loophole in Paypal's dispute procedure that means EU customers may well find themselves out of pocket.
Paypal offers security for many online retailers and customers by setting up a dispute procedure if goods do not arrive or were not as described in the advert.
However, the dispute procedure is only valid if the order is younger than 45 days. Since goods shipped from the US sometimes take longer to arrive in the EU this means that by the time the parcel is registered as missing, the 45 days will have long gone.
This opens the way for the possibility that US retailers can tell European customers that their goods have shipped but when they don't arrive there is nothing a customer can do. The etailer can keep trading with Paypal because it has had no complaints about its behaviour.
Roman Paola Piacentini ordered some face products from US etailer Fragrancex.com at the end of April using Paypal. After three weeks the product had not arrived, so she dropped them an email to ask why. She was told to wait because shipments had been slowed by the volcano.
Piacentini asked for a tracking number and was told by Fragrancex.com that it had not sent the goods with a service that used a tracking number. It claimed that the postage had been "free" when in fact Piacentini had paid enough for such a service.
Piacentini waited for two more weeks and contacted the outfit again.
It shrugged and told her to send more money if it wanted her goods, perhaps using a more expensive postal method.
If Piacentini had used a credit card she would have been protected, but Paypal said that because the transaction had exceeded the 45 day limit it was not interested.
However,there's no way of talking to anyone about the matter. The Paypal "contact us" button only replies to fixed questions. The customer service chat was staffed by a bot.
After it refused to reply to our requests for information about the matter we tapped in the phrase "Is it true that asking you for information is a bit like asking the cat?" The customer service section said "I love cats and if I had more time I would love to own one." This sums up Paypal's attitude quite well.
We emailed Fragrancex.com for a comment about its tactics in dealing with European customers and it has not replied. Until something is done to fix the problem, all we can do is suggest that European customers beware of buying online from US companies using Paypal.