Consumer IQ

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing…But What if it Isn’t?

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing…But What if it Isn't?

How do you spot a fake? If you’re ordering a product online, like Aaron Gold, it’s hard to tell. Maybe even impossible.

Gold recently tried to find a spare battery for his Asus laptop computer, and finally located one through a merchant in Singapore listed on eBay, at a significant discount from its retail price.

He carefully read the specifications to make sure it was the correct unit. He needed a battery that would last as long as possible. It was.

You can guess what happened next, right? It wasn’t.

In fact, he battery was a fake. The merchant had taken one of the lower-capacity battery and altered the back of the unit to make it look legit, a fact verified by his computer.

“Doh!” he says.

So Gold set off on an odyssey to get the right battery. His story is instructive on several levels. It’s a cautionary tale about buying counterfeit items online (and yes, I appreciate the irony that this story is appearing online).

But it’s also a helpful guide for anyone else who is scammed by someone selling bogus batteries — or anything else.

Asking for help

Gold’s first step was to ask the merchant about the questionable battery. He sent it an email. Here’s how it responded:

dear friend

sorry for my late reply

we are so sorry for responding you late

we are so sorry for making you so much trouble and keeping you waiting so long

we will resend a new battery to you tomorrow with track number

please wait patiently

thanks

It was signed by someone named “Sweety” — no last name given.

If the alarm bells weren’t sounding before, they certainly were now.

Gold did the right thing. Taking the case to a dispute, either with eBay or with his credit card, would have skipped an important step. Always ask the merchant to make it right before you try to reverse the transaction.

But the merchant didn’t send him a replacement battery. It seemed to be dragging its feet, which is troubling, because there’s a short window for disputing charges. Time to take this to the next level.

Talking to the retailer

Fortunately, the “store” where Gold purchased his battery does have some checks and balances in place. He opened a case with eBay Buyer Protection, repeating his request for the correct unit.

Under eBay’s rules, you have to wait seven days for the merchant to respond, but Gold was concerned that the clock was running down. “I’m concerned that time is running out,” he said.

To its credit, eBay jumped into action. Here’s the message he received:

I understand that when you received the item, you suspect its authenticity. I see that the seller has not responded regarding the case.

I know it can be disappointing when an item arrives and the seller fails to accurately describe an item. Please know that the professional manner in which you have handled yourself in this situation is most commendable. I’ll be more than happy to help you out with the case.

The resolution

After several weeks of back and forth, and with the peddler of fake batteries continuing to stonewall Gold, eBay took action. He received a follow-up email from the online retailer.

“Since you believe that the item you received is fake, we have decided to take care of this today by issuing you a full a refund,” it said. Gold could also keep the ersatz battery.

A happy ending?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Gold was made whole in the end. But how many other customers accepted a scammy battery without bothering to check its specifications? If it’s just one, it’s too many.

Is this a lesson learned about buying items from an unauthorized source? Maybe. But for every fraudster, there may also be a business selling the real thing, minus the expensive certification.

It is, instead, a case that reminds all of us to buy carefully, using credit cards and retailers that have mechanisms in place to reverse a transaction.

Had Gold wired money to Singapore for his batteries, then there would have never been a happy ending to his story.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.