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A few weeks ago someone illegally used a PayPal account maintained by AbiSource.com, home of the free, GPL'd word processor AbiWord, to buy a digital camera for $581.00. A screen shot of the group's account shows that on 2 October one Jun Jiang was paid for a camera he sold, presumably on eBay, PayPal's owner.

A little scam like this would hardly be news if it weren't for the appalling way PayPal has failed to acknowledge it, or if that, in turn, weren't characteristic of the company's handling of complaints, glitches and fraudulent charges, according to a Web site called PayPalSucks.com which catalogues customer horror-stories.

According to developer Dom Lachowicz, more than three weeks have passed during which he's telephoned, e-mailed and faxed the company but PayPal has not yet replied, "not even [acknowledging] my complaint tickets with so much as an automated e-mail."

"The fund is currently at $206 instead of about $800 thanks to this cretin. This puts a serious damper on my hopes of re-establishing a bi-weekly patch prize," he adds.

Unfortunately, PayPal seems to have numerous legal loopholes through which to escape responsibility for accounts under its control.

"Paypal is not a bank, so they do not operate under the same rules and conditions as a bank (let alone the government regulations and FDIC stuff), and as such, I have minimal recourse against them at the moment. Their silence implies to me that they are treating this matter as if I got mugged on the street, rather than as if someone walked into their bank and withdrew my money without my consent," Lachowicz says.

As for the person who ended up with his money, he writes, "Jun Jiang probably sold the camera in what he thought was a legitimate transaction and most likely did not steal my money. His camera is in someone else's hands, while my money is in his. Even though the law might fault him for receiving stolen goods, I personally don't."

An earlier attempt to charge $1,203.10 on Lachowicz's credit card via PayPal failed, but this is due to the CC issuer's security measures, not Pay Pal's, he says. If donations are being taken, we imagine some other mechanism will have to be introduced. ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

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