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Microsoft search bribery machine refuses to pay up

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Updated Microsoft's search bribery machine is on the fritz. Again.

Last May, in a desperate bid to catch the uncatchable Google, Redmond began bribing people to use its third-rate search engine, Live Search. If you use Live Search ads to find and buy certain stuff, Microsoft will return a portion of the purchase price. They call it cashback.

Some of that stuff is sold through eBay. And when eBayers use the bribery machine, Microsoft promises the cashback will appear in their PayPal accounts within 60 days. But according to reports from across the web, the company isn't always keeping that promise.

Typically, when a Live Search-fueled eBay purchase is made, a record of the cashback will immediately appear in the user's PayPal account. But the user is told the cash can't be accessed until those 60 days have passed. Presumably, this is a means of preventing people from returning items after pocketing the cash. But even after the 60 days roll by, some uses still can't access the funds. When they try, they receive the following message:

We’ve encountered a problem depositing your cashback reward into the PayPal account that you used for your eBay purchase. But we will keep trying.

Microsoft has yet to respond to a request for comment. But one user says that when they contacted Microsoft's support minions, the company admitted there's a system-wide problem with PayPal deposits.

Microsoft tells the WalletPop blog that the issue should be corrected by February 9.

On the day after Thanksgiving, typically regarded as one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, the bribery machine buckled under the weight of too many shoppers and disappeared from the web for several hours. In some cases, users also complained that Redmond wasn't returning as much as it said it would.

In the early days of the bribery machine, eBayers noticed they could game the system by selling $630 in cash for $714. But Microsoft says it has ways of stopping this.

"With any program of this type that has a lot of early buzz and provides significant value to consumers, there comes the risk of inappropriate uses or even fraudulent activities," the company told us.

"eBay and Microsoft have therefore incorporated various levels of abuse and fraud mitigation techniques throughout the program. We’re committed to providing a positive Live Search cashback experience for consumers and are actively working with eBay to identify, correct and prevent isolated incidents of inappropriate use of this program." ®

Update

Microsoft has acknowledged its cashback snafu and is indeed working to solve it. "While we regret the delay of Live Search cashback payments between Jan. 29 and Feb. 1, we’ve investigated the issue and have taken steps to correct it," says Stefan Weitz, Microsoft's director of Live Search. "More than 90 percent of the customers affected will receive payouts to their PayPal account today. We are working directly with the remainder of impacted customers to walk them through the steps required to receive their cash back."

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