Did Paypal make an Ebay buyer destroy a precious violin?

Did Paypal make an Ebay buyer destroy a precious violin?


norman lebrecht

January 04, 2012

This story is starting to go viral, so I decided to share it with you before the Daily Mail does. Apparently, Paypal requires purchasers who dispute the nature of the goods they bought to show proof that the item has been destroyed before their money is refunded. But what happens when the item is of cultural or sentimental value? The same. There is no place for culture or sentiment at Paypal. (I haven’t used the company since it made John Birt, wrecker of the BBC, a director.)

Read on, and weep.

Dear Helen Killer,

I love your site and was thrilled to hear of your “win” against PayPal. I recently had a heartbreaking experience of my own with them.

I sold an old French violin to a buyer in Canada, and the buyer disputed the label.

This is not uncommon. In the violin market, labels often mean little and there is often disagreement over them. Some of the most expensive violins in the world have disputed labels, but they are works of art nonetheless.

Rather than have the violin returned to me, PayPal made the buyer DESTROY the violinin order to get his money back. They somehow deemed the violin as “counterfeit” even though there is no such thing in the violin world.

The buyer was proud of himself, so he sent me a photo of the destroyed violin.

I am now out a violin that made it through WWII as well as $2500. This is of course, upsetting. But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins and other antiquities that they know nothing about. It is beyond me why PayPal simply didn’t have the violin returned to me.

I spoke on the phone to numerous reps from PayPal who 100% defended their action and gave me the party line.


I forwarded this e-mail to my contact at Paypal several days ago. They have not replied.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention in the original post that the violin was examined and authenticated by a top luthier prior to its sale.

UPDATE 2: Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Mr. Pete, who found this paragraph in Paypal’s Terms of Service:


UPDATE: I warned you the Daily Mail would be onto it – not that any of its readers has an interest in violins.


  • ArtNikolski says:

    Though it might be less delisious story if it was the fault of delivery service. Oh! Russian delivery could destroy the violin even on its way to buyer 🙂 and then reply that it was “violin construction set” sent by forwarder.
    Is it really professional way to buy violin without any touch and phonation test?
    Cat bought in a sack pretended not to turn back….. to the salor, indeed.

  • Maurice Bourguignon (1885-1978) est effectivement un luthier installé au 43 rue de la Régence à Bruxelles en 1913 (Source : Dictionnaire des facteurs d’instruments de musique en Wallonie et à Bruxelles, sous la direction de Malou Haine et Nicolas Meeùs, Mardaga, 1986). Cette triste affaire est donc entièrement plausible.

  • Chin Kim says:

    I had a very bad experience on buying a violin bow from Ebay, and through the paypal. The bow came from Virginia (I have all the details to this day, just don’t have it in front of me). The seller failed to mention that there was a repaired crack in the middle of the stick!!!! The pics showed only the top and the bottom of the bow, and not the middle. I wanted to return it, but the seller didn’t want it back, a bad sign. I sold it at an auction to someone who didn’t mind the fault at less than half the price. In that particular scenario, I would not have minded destruction of the bow to get my refund, if I knew that paypal would do that…

  • Guilherme Fontão says:

    No matter the intrinsic qualities (or defects) of the violin, in a so miserable world – where there are a lot of talented (but poor) young musicians who would be happy if could buy a Chinese one -, to destroy (or to approve the destruction of) an instrument means not only complete lack of sensitiveness, yet an infamous crime against society. Besides – as wisely says Ivry Gitlis – in name of Art, no one owns a secular instrument: we just go through its life and must conserve it to other generations. Lastly, who destroys a musical instrument never can be considered a musician, even less an artist.

  • CherylD says:

    As far as saving when buying on eBay goes:

    Use a site like Ebuyersedge.com to set up saved searches. You get an e-mail whenever a matching item is listed. Especially good for “Buy It Now”s.

    Try a site like Typojoe.com to find some great deals with items that have main key words misspelled in the title. Other buyers might never see them.

    For auctions, use a sniping service such as Bidball.com to place your bid. It’ll bid in the last few seconds, helping to save $ and avoid shill bidding.

  • Rod says:

    Unbelievable! As a maker of musical instruments I can hardly believe it. Thanks for the heads up though – I’ll have to take the PayPal links off my site.

    The idiot who actually destroyed it is even worse than PayPal.

  • ariel says:

    How do we know the violin was really destroyed – could one buy an inexpensive fiddle and smash it it up
    to suit paypal – labels are a dime a dozen ……….

  • This is an icredibly sad story, but goes along with everything I have heard about paypal. The workers there must be required to leave all their internal organs at the front door, you know, their hearts, minds and souls, and most especially their common sense. I feel very sorry but feel that even machines could do a better job than the paypal droids.

    • Dan P. says:

      If, in fact, this story is true, there are so many people to scream at one doesn’t know where to start. But in response to Survival Jones regarding the folks at PayPal – one should realize that very very few people anymore have had much to do with a crafted musical instrument (or the music it was meant to play) so that they cannot be expected to be able to distinguish the difference between the value of a hand-crafted but mis-attributed violin and a fake iPod, culturally speaking. When people know nothing, you really shouldn’t expect much from them, but it’s equally foolish to follow their advice. Now the PayPal folks only told the buyer to do something unspeakably foolish. It was the buyer who actually did it.

      Dan P.

  • Galen Johnson says:

    I think it’s made up. The only way an eBay buyer can force a refund and get their money back is to open an official eBay dispute; the money then goes into escrow. They then must return the item, and prove it with a valid tracking number. When the tracking indicates the item has been delivered back to the seller, the money is released back into the buyer’s Paypal account.

    • It could be made up, after all Regretsy are not exactly fans of paypal, but in the case of a suspected fake item, then paypal do have in their t&c that they would order the item to be destroyed.

  • Cat says:

    Who was that barbarian who destroyed this instrument? What’s his eBay accoun t name? I’d like to have his contact to give him a piece of my mind.
    It’s one thing that PayPal told him so, but to actually do it and destroy such an old instrument out of sheer malice betrays a lowbrow that cannot be called a civilized human being. It makes me sick to my stomach that such people exist and roam about, that’s disgusting beyond comprehension.

    • ArtNikolski says:

      don’t you afraid the ‘piece of your mind’ will be also broken?

      looking through comments – i think it’s really terrible if buy/sell process as same for instruments or historical tresures as for sex toys. It must be spesial servise with special juridical framework, and main goal not to make money on sell/delivery but to control it, and saving objects of historical value during there moving from one owner to another.
      And the worth thing in net is popularity-based ratings, beetween few worldwide services whitch, seems, captured monopoly on all sales. More transactions – more mistakes. If mistake configures inti briken violin today, what will be tomorrow with global culture?

  • Claire says:

    There’s a big difference between “counterfeit” and “not authentic”.
    PayPal requires that “counterfeit” items be destroyed, because counterfeit items are illegal copies of trademarked or copyrighted items. It’s illegal to sell them, and some jurisdictions require them to be destroyed when discovered.
    That simply doesn’t apply to violins. A violin may be “not authentic”; it may even be presented fraudulently. It may certainly be “significantly not as represented”, which would allow the buyer to return it for a refund. But only a designation of “counterfeit” authorizes the destruction of an item. That designation states that this item is not legally allowed to exist.
    PayPal made a big mistake here. It misapplied a legal term and in doing so caused irrevocable loss to the seller. The seller now has neither the violin nor the payment. If the seller were indeed a counterfeiter, that may be appropriate. But as it stands, seller is now the wronged party. And it doesn’t matter if the violin were mislabeled or not; PayPal wronged the seller in adjudging the violin counterfeit. I hope she seeks legal redress.

  • Petur Eiriksson says:

    That’s an awful story, my sympathies! Paypal and eBay protect their own interests very well, but I have had bad experiences both selling and buying on eBay, in both cases my loss was covered by MY OWN INSURANCE, neither eBay nor Paypal cared at all! Sentimental or cultural value has no place in this process, unfortunately. In my experience it’s best to have insurance BOTH AS A SELLER AND A BUYER. A good credit card usually takes care of the buying part, and a shipping insurance from the courier should take care of the selling part. In this case, if the buyer disputed the label (not the condition), it means that he received the instrument INTACT (the eBay dispute should prove this), which would render himself liable for any damage.On the other hand if he can prove that he received it damaged, the courier should be liable. But I cannot imagine somebody buying a violin, who could actually physically do this, Mind-boggling!

  • MsV says:

    As far as Ebay claim they proceed, they require from the buyer some qualified third part proof . One could regret that the seller seemed not to have the opportunity to contest this proof.
    That being said when I read that she claim that ” there is no such thing counterfeit in the violin world.” and that she seems quite aware of the subtle difference between label and actual maker . One can only think that the knew exactly what she was doing: a scam