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eBay glitch wipes out 11 year-old account without a trace

Reps couldn't help owner because he wasn't a valid user

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Updated eBay users on both sides of the Atlantic are reporting potentially serious site glitches that have confounded customer service representatives trying to diagnose and fix the problems. The glitches, while unrelated, both appeared to involve database problems that prevented users of the online auction house from carrying out basic functions.

The first bug has bitten hard at Stefan Waldman, a seller who woke up last week to discover that his eBay account had mysteriously vanished. The account, which had the user id "stefan," was established in 1996 and had racked up a 99.7 percent positive feedback score from 717 comments. Loss of the account, which Waldman estimates he used to transact $20,000 to $30,000 worth of sales, could put him at a severe disadvantage.

"If you were purchasing something from me and looked at my feedback, you'd have confidence in purchasing from me," he told El Reg. "To take a hit and be a new user, are people going to have any confidence in buying a $100 or $200 item from you?"

Waldman's ordeal isn't the only recent disappearance of a coveted eBay account. Last week, a separate user who goes by the name "amishtaxi" also reported being frozen out when trying to log in.

"Much of our livelihood comes from selling on eBay," a person claiming to be the account holder wrote in this eBay forum. "What has happened to our amishtaxi account?" At time of writing, the account appeared to be working normally. Attempts to reach the user for comment were unsuccessful.

The deleted accounts are coinciding with a separate problem being reported by an eBay user in the UK, who presented evidence that transactions conducted on PayPal are not being reflected properly on eBay.

Show me the money

Screenshots provided by Tina Weston of Worcester show she successfully paid £8.55 to buy five sterling silver end cap hooks using her PayPal account. But when she checked her eBay account, the transaction never appeared in the "Items I've Won" section. In other words, eBay has no record the transaction was ever completed even though PayPal has debited her credit card and forwarded the money to the seller.

An eBay spokeswoman said the two issues were unrelated. In the first, she said, eBay inadvertently deleted "a very small number of accounts" in the course of doing database maintenance. The second problem is being caused by delays in the time it takes PayPal confirmations to appear on eBay. Some payments take as long as 48 hours to appear. Teams are actively working to fix both issues, she said without saying how long it will take.

"We understand that this is very frustrating for the few folks who have been impacted," spokeswoman Catherine England said in an email. "Our community has come to expect a certain level of consistency in their services from eBay and PayPal and in these instances we haven’t lived up to that expectation."

That's a far cry from the information delivered to Weston by an eBay customer service representative, who told her there was little eBay would do for her.

"Your purchase isn't protected by our buyer protection services," he wrote in an email. "Please make sure that the item is listed under 'Items I've Won' in My eBay before sending any money."

Apparently, the representative had never heard of "Buy It Now," a button that allowed Weston to immediately jump off the My eBay section of her account to a PayPal page so she could pay for the item. After completing the transaction, PayPal deducted the money from her account and delivered it to the seller, but that information was never reflected by eBay.

The representative told her her problem was most likely the result of her falling for a fraudulent auction.

"In the future, you can protect yourself from these fraudulent activities by completing your purchases on the eBay website - it's the safest way to trade with other eBay members."

Weston says she invested hours of time trying to explain the mix up. She finally gave up after eBay employees repeatedly referred her to their colleagues at PayPal and PayPal repeatedly passed her off to people at eBay.

The problem sounds somewhat reminiscent of a glitch reported in September that sent items purchased on eBay to the wrong address.

No accountability

Waldman, the US-based eBay user mentioned earlier, also reports getting the run-around from customer service reps. Several have told him that they are unable to help him because he doesn't have a valid account. After spending hours speaking to reps for both eBay and PayPal, he was finally able to establish that his account name has been changed to edaaffa0a4d340a9102214.

But messages and other personal information associated with the original account are gone, and no one at eBay can explain why the change was made or if it's possible to restore the account.

Says Waldman: "Once your ID is deleted, you cannot get into the help system. I don't exist. I've been made into another person."

Update

Around mid-morning New York time on Tuesday, Walman discovered his coveted stefan account had been restored, although he says some of the messages and transaction records are missing.

"Nobody has even sent me an email explaining what happened or saying I'm sorry," he added.

We also heard from Pat Myers, the owner of the amishtaxi account, who indeed confirmed that the name, with almost 5,000 pieces of feedback, "vanished off the face of the earth" for about 48 hours. "It's as if we didn't exist," she said.

After the account was restored, Myers found many auctions that had been pending during the outage had been recorded as being completed, even though they had not stayed open for the period of time she specified. Buyers with the biggest bid at the time the auction went dark have been recorded as the winner. That's a big problem, she said, because the vast majority of winning bids come during a listing's last two hours.

"Now we're having problems with a buyer who insists she won," said Myers, who says her eBay-based business selling vintage clothing and other items is her sole source of income. "She's really gotten harassing about it now. What I want [eBay] to do is actually delete all those auctions. As it is now, she can leave us negative feedback for not sending her that dress." ®

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