Last week while busy at my ‘day job’ I got the following email on the iPhone:
(slightly edited for brevity)
Dear Randy Brown,
The PayPal User Agreement states that PayPal, at its sole discretion, reserves the right to limit an account for any violation of the User Agreement, including the Acceptable Use Policy. ….
We are hereby notifying you that, after a recent review of your accountactivity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales of Subscription Services … Therefore, your account has been permanently limited.
You will need to remove all references to PayPal from your website(s)
and/or auction(s). This includes not only removing PayPal as a payment
option, but also the PayPal logo and/or shopping cart. We thank you in
advance for your cooperation. If you have any questions, please contact
the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy Department at email@example.com.
PayPal Acceptable Use Policy Department
PayPal, an eBay Company
My first gut reaction that this was just another phishing attempt, so I quickly logged into my PayPal account only to find the following:
We recently reviewed your account, and we need more information about your business to allow us to provide uninterrupted service. Until we can collect this information, your access to sensitive account features will be limited. We would like to restore your access as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Why is my account access limited?
Your account access has been limited for the following reason(s):
- Mar. 27, 2008: In accordance with PayPal’s User Agreement and Acceptable Use Policy,we have closed your account. Your funds may be held for 180 days from the date of your last transaction. After 180 days, you will be able to access your funds by requesting an online bank transfer or, if applicable, a check from PayPal. Please update your address or bank information as we cannot be held responsible for checks issued to an incorrect address. We do ask that you please remove reference(s) to PayPal from your site
It took me only a minute to realized something I never even thought was possible:
I was banned from PayPal!
All the work I had done in the last year building my Premium Membership income to over $5,000/mo. was gone! That’s it, game over, no reason to go on! I literally became ill, and I assumed that my online career was over for good.
After calming down and putting away my rope and wobbly stool, I figured that this must be a mistake. I had used the term “Adult access” in describing an area of our premium membership forums and surely this must have tripped an automatic red-flag or something. I contacted PayPal customer-support by telephone and was told that I could send an appeal to “firstname.lastname@example.org”. I promptly wrote a lengthy explanation and fired it off to the ‘email@example.com’ address.
Now here is where I began to realize that PayPal is not the most professional outfit out there. 24 hours after I sent my appeal to firstname.lastname@example.org, it was returned as undeliverable – those fucks on the phone gave me a fake email address to send my appeal to! How’s that for professional customer service?! Now I went from being depressed to angry. I resent my email, this time to AUP@Paypal.com which was the address for questions that was on the first email I received.
*Update: I have since learned from a PayPal employee that the correct email for a PayPal appeal is email@example.com . I have not tested it, but I was assured that firstname.lastname@example.org (with an S at the end) is the correct email address.
Within hours of re-sending my appeal to AUP@paypal.com I received what appeared to be an automated response that basically echoed what the first email said: “you’re banned from PayPal and we are going to hold your balance ($5,100) for up to six months“. I then sat down and wrote yet another email, explaining that after being a long-time PayPal customer, paying thousands of dollars in fees over the years and being blown-off by the customer support people who gave me a fake email address that I at least deserved the professional courtesy of being given the assurance that my issue had been reviewed by a human being. I was confident that if someone actually reviewed the website, that there was no way they could come to the conclusion that we were selling subscription services to “certain sexually explicit material“.
Less than 12 hours after my “demand” for review I got my reply, from a human, assuring me that my case had been reviewed – and they would not be reversing their decision, and my $5,100 balance would be returned to me within 180 days.
Ok – so it’s PayPal’s game and they have decided to take their ball and go home. Time for me to move on and find someone else to give my transaction fees to.
Google Checkout can have my transaction fees from now on:
I had thought about using Google Checkout in the past because their transaction fees are much lower than PayPal (about 1/3 less) – but because GC does not support ongoing subscription payments I stuck with PayPal. Well now that PayPal has decided they no longer want my transaction fees I figured it was time to switch to Google Checkout. This would mean that I would have to change from a “subscription” based model to a one-time “lifetime” membership model. We’ve been offering lifetime memberships for $25 at the site for over a year, and we get a few each day, so the move to lifetime only memberships is not that big of a deal. And even though there are other providers that can do ongoing subscriptions, because there are no Drupal modules to support them, they aren’t a good choice for me.
The average lifespan of our premium subscriptions was 3-months. So earnings for the average subscription were $9.97 ($5.99 first month, $1.99 for each of the remaining months). We are now offering lifetime Premium Membership for $25, which is approx. 2.5x that value of an average premium subscriber. So even though I expect fewer lifetime signups because of the higher fee, that should be offset by the increased fee. To my surprise though, so far we have been getting the same number of higher-priced lifetime signups as we had been getting with the lower priced subscriptions, so earnings for the month so far are way above average. We are also offering a $10 discount to current subscribers who would otherwise loose access to our Premium Forums and so far there has been a very high purchase rate as their PayPal subscriptions run-out. So – even though PayPal has banned our account, being forced to move to one-time fees with Google Checkout may have been the best thing that has ever happened.
How to tell if PayPal is reviewing your account
A few days before PayPal banned my account, I received two emails that I had successfully confirmed my bank accounts – one email for each bank account I have setup in my PayPal profile. When I sent the email asking for PayPal to appeal my case (the one that did not get returned) I received two-more of those automated “your bank account has been confirmed emails”, and then, less than one-hour before I got my final response from PayPal, I got two more of the “your bank account has been confirmed” email messages. So it appears that each time PayPal looks at your account they also verify/validate your bank accounts, which triggers those emails.
And lastly: If you rely on PayPal make sure you read and understand PayPal’s user agreement and acceptable use policy. Even though they gouge you on fees, it can really ruin your day if they ban you. Although it has actually ended up increasing my earnings by being forced to move away from Paypal, waiting 180 days for my account balance is just no fun. I recommend not getting yourself banned in the first place.
Update: after posting my story i found this website, PayPalWarning.com
Where I learned a lot about how PayPal does business. If I had seen this website sooner I would have thought twice about letting them hold so much of my money. If you use or rely on PayPal I recommend that you check it out. Another very informative site is www.screw-Paypal.com
**Update#2: Paypal has released my balance to me!
***Update #3: Paypal has UNBanned my account!