When Sellers Scam And The Customer Becomes The Pawn. With Little Help From AliExpress, FedEx, PayPal.

In 1972, I had a problem, but I also had a solution.  Unfortunately, that solution had a problem, and that problem was the lack of money.

I was a freshman in college and heavily enrolled in science and math classes.  I wasn’t experiencing difficulty with the class material.  Rather, my issue was time.  In the days before personal computers, science life centered around calculations that used values, and those values were looked up in tables.  Everything was in a table, from trigonometric functions to logarithms. These tables would give you general values, but you had to interpolate between numbers to obtain the value that you needed. 

Interpolation used simple math, and once you had the numbers and the right formula, it was easy to figure out your answer.  The trick was to know what formula to use and how to apply it.  That was the science part; I had no problem with the science part.  However, the simple math was my roadblock. Dear readers, I can add and subtract, multiply, and divide.  However, I would often recheck my interpolations “Just to make sure.”  Additionally, I like to approach a problem in multiple ways to see if I get a consistent answer as well as to determine the best/easiest solution.  Because of the math burden, it would take me at least twice as long to do my homework.  Valuable time that could be spent listening to music or hanging out with friends.

However, shortly after I started college, a miracle happened. It was trivial by today’s standards, but it was as significant as the current availability of personal computers for students.  What was that amazing product? It was a Texas Instrument SR10 scientific calculator.  Unfortunately, it cost an astounding $129.00, which is almost $1000 in 2024 money.  It used the term “scientific” loosely, as it was barely more capable than a calculator that you can now buy at the dollar store. However, fast and accurate manipulation of numbers could make all of the difference in the world for me.  I pooled every resource that I had and also borrowed money from my father. However, the gadget was in short supply.

TI SR10 Calculator. Simple for today, revolutionary for a college freshman in1972, (Image from eBay)

The only place that had it in stock was Marshall Field’s, a high-end local department store.  I drove to Field’s and bought it. Honestly, it changed my life.  However, in less than a year, the calculator’s display malfunctioned.  I was beside myself as I certainly couldn’t afford to buy another one. In desperation, I took it back to Field’s, wondering if they had a repair service.  When I told the clerk my problem, he asked me for my old calculator, then smiled, reached under the counter, and gave me a brand new calculator, no questions asked.  That day, the Marshall Field Company acquired a customer for life.  They stood by their products, and in turn, they stood by me.  I still get warm fuzzies thinking about that exchange.

Over the decades, customer service has gotten worse and worse as customer interaction has become depersonalized. I am sure you can recount an experience dealing with an off-shore representative who was both unhelpful and incomprehensible. However, that has been only the start. It is now nearly impossible to get past a robot and talk to a real person. I could recount a number of stories, but none tops my most recent and horrific experience with AliExpress, FedEx, and PayPal, all of which supposedly guarantee customer satisfaction.

My longtime readers know that one of my favorite things to do is to compare similar items.  This interest may sound a bit weird, but it is harmless and hurts no one.  I have been into comparing things since childhood. In fact I had an extensive pencil collection when I was 5.  My comparison hobby allows me to become expert on a particular and often obscure topic.  There are worse things one can do.

To fuel this hobby, I acquire products from many sources.  I’ll find them, obtain them for free as review items, and sometimes even buy them.  This latter option has me hunting for bargains, from super sales and deep discount stores. 

AliExpress is the Chinese equivalent of Amazon, and products can be significantly discounted on this platform.  Just like Amazon, AliExpress has a marketplace where third-party sellers hawk their products.  These “companies” may exist in someone’s garage, but they appear impressive when hosted on the AliExpress website. To combat purchasing fears, AliExpress has numerous statements reassuring customers of satisfaction, prompt delivery, and rapid refunds.  I’m here to say that all of that is BS, and with this preamble, on to the story.

One of my latest interests has been the humble chamber vacuum sealers.  An amazingly useful device that has many iterations.  I had a particular interest in comparing two mechanically different variants of chamber vacuum sealers, one of which I already possessed.  The second type was a less expensive and likely inferior product. However, I needed to confirm that for myself.  Searching AliExpress, I found what I was looking for for over $100 less than the same product on Amazon.  Yet, it was still several hundred dollars.  Please don’t judge; I am who I am.

With customer satisfaction reassurances in hand, I placed my order and was surprised that the marketplace store was located in the US, Pennsylvania to be specific.  They promised delivery in less than a week, woo who!

Four days later, I checked the AliExpressed seller and noted that my product had been delivered. What? I had no package.  I checked the tracking number, and it said that it was delivered to my hometown, but the blurry photo was certainly not my house, and the package was too small to be a vacuum sealer. I contacted the seller but only received a very automated broken English reply.  I waited a few days as I gathered more information.  Since there was no update from the seller, I contacted them again, and this time, I received a “be patient” canned stalling replay. I asked the seller for a refund and explained why. They never directly responded to that request. Something was up, and it wasn’t the sky.

Here is where the fun began.  I initiated a refund request directly from AliExpressed.  They acknowledged my request and asked me to be patient.  Apparently, everyone wants me to be patient.

I set off on an odyssey to reach FedEx for more confirming information.  I will summarize my experience, but I want to emphasize that it was probably the most horrible customer service experience that I have ever had.  It involved three and one half days of my time over weeks, countless phone calls, as well as a trip to a FedEx office.  The experience left me shaking, but it didn’t stop me. However, my end result would not have been possible if I had still been employed,  as I had to spend hours and hours on the phone.

FedEx has a customer service phone number, but it is answered by a robot that gives you only three choices.  You are forced to choose one of those options.  I would choose “package not delivered,” and the robot would say, “Yes, it was,” and it would hang up. I tried every verbal cue, button press, pleading for the operator.  The robot would simply hang up on me. I also tried their chat text line in the hopes of talking to a real person. The chat line uses the same robot algorithm,  and it also disconnected me after it told me that the package was delivered. 

Finally, on one call I deliberately talked gibberish in the hope of confusing the computer.  That worked, and I was connected to an actual attendant.  She confirmed that the package was delivered to my town, but not to my name or my address.  Now, I had the delivery photo, as well as her verbal confirmation.  My solution should be easy, right?  Wrong!

AliExpress had no update for me after many days, and my sister (who is an experienced shopper) advised that I try to get a refund via PayPal, which also offers a satisfaction guarantee policy.  It was difficult to find the resolution option at PayPal, but I eventually found it and initiated my request for a refund.  By then, I had done quite a bit of research, and it appeared that I had been the victim of a zip code scam.  A bogus seller sends a worthless package to a random name and a different address but to the correct town.  When the buyer asks for a refund, the parent company (in this case, AliExpress) confirms that the package was delivered to the right town and denies the refund.  Clever.

I wrote to PayPal with my findings, provided photos, and described my conversation with FedEx, confirming that I never got the package. I noted that I had never launched a resolution request with PayPal in our 20-year association. I figured that they would see that I was a loyal customer, review my statement, and refund my money.  I waited weeks and then got a computerized reply from PayPal that the refund was denied because they said I received the package!  Didn’t anyone read all of the information that I sent?  All they needed to do was call FedEx (I’m sure that they have a direct line to a real person) to confirm it.  I called PayPal and told them about my concerns.  They advised me to get a letter from FedEx stating the above.  “How can I do that when it is almost impossible to get past their robot?” The rep told me to find a local FedEx store and told me that they could provide the letter.  Moments later, I was driving to one.

At the FedEx store, I explained my situation to a worker.  He said that they couldn’t give me a letter, but if I called their store, they would have the ability to patch me to a real person at FedEx, and they could help me.  He gave me his store’s business card with the number to call.  I drove back home and immediately called the store.  Instead of the store, I got the same robot, and there was nothing that I could do to get past it.  I don’t think that the clerk deliberately set me up, but by then, I was sick to my stomach and raging mad.

Many, many more calls to FedEx, many, many robot hang-ups.  I tried my gibberish trick, but apparently, the robot had caught on and would just hang up on me when I did it (multiple times). I spent over an hour searching the internet to find a way to reach a real FedEx person and finally stumbled onto a Reddit post that offered a convoluted suggestion of pressing various keys at certain points in the call and responding then not responding to certain prompts.  I have no idea how that person figured out such a bizarre option, but I tried it, and it worked; I was connected to a real person.  I explained my problem to him, and he confirmed that the package was not only sent to a different address and a different person but also to a female.  Clearly, the seller wanted to make it impossible for the bogus package to ever find its way to me. The rep said he couldn’t send me any written information, but he would be willing to let me record him saying the same.  Guess what?  iPhones won’t record audio if you are on a phone call!  Now, I was running downstairs trying to find one of my kids so I could speakerphone Mr. FedEx to their phone’s recording app.  Thankfully, Grace was home, and we made the recording.

I checked the PayPal resolution center and said that AliExpress had contacted PayPal and told them that the package was delivered, so PayPal denied a refund.  AliExpress never contacted me with their denial and never asked for any information from me. They went along with the seller’s scam.

I started an appeal and added even more information to the PayPal resolution complaint, and informed them that I also had an audio recording from FedEx (you can’t upload audio files to PayPal).  I noted that I would play it to them if they called me.  They never called, around a week later I received an email from PayPal stating that my appeal was denied because the package was delivered.  What!!

I went back to the PayPal website but discovered that the case had been removed as it was now “resolved.” Luckily, I’m a person who saves documents.  With little hope, I called PayPal again and reached a stateside rep.  I explained my frustration that I was the victim of a zip code scam, that I had been a loyal PayPal user for decades, that I had evidence proving my claim.  She said she would contact FedEx (she clearly had all of the information that I had sent PayPal in front of her).  Less than 5 minutes later, she returned online and said FedEx confirmed that I was telling the truth.  She refunded my money.  It is clear that PayPal never looked at my copious documents prior to this lady; no one cared.

After almost four days of agonizing work, weeks of waiting, and the solution was as simple as a 5-minute phone call. However, no one bothered to do that, and I could have easily been out several hundred dollars. I’m sure many crooks are using this zip code scam.  Why not?  It is almost foolproof.  If I had been working, I would never have had the time to invest in a resolution.  I’m also certain that many would have given up along the way as it was so complicated.  It was an absolutely horrible experience that will prevent me from ever using AliExpress again. Additionally, if I have an option to not use FedEx, I will do that even if it is less convenient for me.  Lastly, all of PayPal’s guarantees seem a bit hollow.  They had evidence but chose to ignore it.  The amount of effort and time that I spent curating and sending data turned out to be almost meaningless.  No one cared.

Oh, and I did try to leave a negative review for the AliExpress marketplace store, which is called  M Studio001.  It seems like my review button was removed and I can’t tell others of  my experience.  Clearly, their ratings are off. There are a number of 5 star reviews, which is reflected by a high overall rating. Hmm, are these real customers?  All you need to do is to go a little further down the list to find many 1 star reviews with comments like, “Never received the product.”  It seems like this store has this scam down pat. No one is bothering to investigate, to they look like a legit company on the surface.  However, I don’t think that they are.

This was a dehumanizing experience.  A decade ago, I thought that customer service had gotten as bad as it could get.  However, I had no idea.  It costs money to run a good customer relations department.  It is much cheaper to use automated robot systems, but those systems can only do so much. As I spent many hours on the phone, all I could think of was corporate greed.  I felt not only like a victim but I also felt that  these mega-corporations were implying by their actions that it was me who was the criminal. When corporations get huge, they think that they are invulnerable to outside forces. Customers become cogs in their wheels; where else can someone go where there are only a few mega outlets available.  Can it get any worse?  Sadly, I’m thinking that it can.  These are sad times for the average Joe.

This post represents my personal opinion.

The blurry FedEx image shows that this is not house, and the package to too small. AliExpress had my address, but the marketplace seller sent to a different address, name, and gender, but to the correct town. A huge scam in my opinion as AliExpress assumes that it was delivered as long as it is delivered to the right town. What did the seller actually have in the box? Who knows, but likely garbage.
After FedEx confirmed that the package was not sent to my house they advised me to contact the seller. But all I got was this BS reply.
I requested a refund, but got more BS. AliExpress corporate was no more helpful. It was time to contact PayPal.
I sent PayPal a ton of information confirming that I had been scammed. Yet, they denied both my initial refund request and my appeal. All they had to do was to call FedEx to confirm that I was telling the truth. Finally, after my appeal was denied I was able to reach someone at PayPal customer service who spent around 3 minutes to call FedEx to confirm that I was telling the truth, and they refunded my money. Sellers are using this scam because it is so easy to do and no one bothers to confirm what customers are stating. Truly horrible service.