You know the As Seen on TV store, the one that is always in the basement of the mall, at the back between the Popcornery and the toilets? This is my future: banishment to a dim shopper’s purgatory, sentenced to purchase my Whizzit and Hanger Cascaders in person. My well-worn couch – once the bustling hub of a virtual retail mall – is now just another place sit.
It all started before I left for South Africa. I set up this blog and added a PayPal donate button for those wishing to support my writing – a standard tool used by myriad money-strapped bloggers.
While I was away, I met a group of women who call themselves Unakho (which means “God can”). They support the women and children of their community in the Mdantsane Village township by providing food, activities and educational programs, as well as practical support for women in crisis. I wrote a post about their work which inspired a friend to send money for them through my donate button – a donation that I delivered on my last day there.
When I returned to Toronto I received an email informing me that during a regular compliance screening my account had been identified as falling within the charity/non-profit category, and I was asked to provide further information. I logged in and studied the helpful grid explaining what I could and could not do with my account while it was restricted. The only verboten activity was closing it, so I clicked to withdraw the $100 my mother had sent me for my birthday.
Next I looked at the requirements to remove the restrictions. They were completely familiar: I have helped several non-profit organizations set up donation buttons on their site – most recently, The Loaves and Fishes Network, which launched its button just a few days ago.
I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to satisfy PayPal’s requirements. From what I could tell (this is my best guess as the instructions were vague and there was nobody that I could ask), they wanted me to prove that Unakho is a legitimate non-profit organization and they’re not – they are just some women in an RDP trying to help their community. They don’t have paperwork or status as a charity. But the money I brought them was an unsolicited gift. So what is the issue? I emailed PayPal and detailed the situation. As well, I requested a copy of the PayPal guidelines for bloggers and asked what steps I needed to take next to bring my site into compliance.
A day or so passed before I logged in again. This time I saw that the restrictions had changed (withdrawals were now verboten too) and my fund request had been cancelled… and a $0.50 reversal fee had been levied from my birthday money. Well that’s beyond the pale, I thought, and as I do every time I think about that phrase I wondered what in the world it could mean. For some reason I have always associated it with the Rolling Stones. After a moment of introspection I realized that it was because of their song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, but this theory crashed on the rocks of historic fact when Google told me the ditty belongs to Procol Harum. Procol Harum, I thought. What in the world is a procol harum? And so my day passed like many before it.
The email hit my inbox like a brick through a plate glass window. They say animals can tell when storms are brewing so in retrospect it’s not all that fantastic that at its arrival Mendoza leaped from the couch and scurried down the hall. The subject line kicked out the shards clinging to the wrecked frame: “PayPal appeal denied”.
The email began “PayPal has made the business decision to close your account.” They go on to wish me the best in my future endeavours. “This is not a decision we make lightly,” the message states, “and we deeply regret any inconvenience or frustration this matter may cause you. This matter has been reviewed at length, and this decision is final. Your PayPal Account has been limited and there will be no appeals to the decision.” Further, the email indicated that the money in my account would be unavailable to me for 180 days (for the math-impaired, that’s 6 months).
I called their number. The suitably regretful-sounding customer service representative quickly confirmed what the email came just shy of explicitly stating: that I am banned from using PayPal… FOR LIFE! No explanation. No appeal.
I chatted with the rep for a few moments (I could tell from her voice that she’s super cute) after she handed down my sentence. Were there any steps I could take to “re-establish a positive working relationship with PayPal”? I nearly gagged trying to get the phrase out without laughing. Listen, PayPal is a very useful service – don’t get me wrong. But if anything were ever beyond the pale – if anything ever tested the limits of credulity – it is a scenario in which a company unilaterally banishes a customer in good standing with no explanation or appeal.
The cute-sounding rep offered to send a note on my behalf to the compliance department requesting a phone call. Sure, I told her – I’ll take it. She said something else, too – something more sinister. “I can’t read you the notes on your account,” she told me apologetically, “but they take everything into account before they make a decision. Not just this issue.” I can only guess that this means that they have been reading my blog and found something there that they don’t like. And that is creepy. I had published a rather cheeky explanation for my readers as to why the donation button was missing. Is it possible that I am banned FOR LIFE for my smart-assery?
To my request for directions to the documentation of terms I had contravened, she suggested I read the User Agreement. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to dog paddle through a document like that, but naturally I am still flummoxed.
As far as I can tell, I did nothing wrong. I never misrepresented myself or the work I was doing. I was genuinely thrilled and energized when I saw that a post I had written had touched someone to the point of them being motivated to send money halfway around the world. The recipients of that gift are doing amazing work with few resources and no subsidy, and I feel proud of being able to help. I wish I better understood what happened here, but it would seem that I will not get my answer from PayPal.
So what will become of me now that I am banned from using PayPal… FOR LIFE? You’ll find me in the As Seen on TV store – and I’ll be paying cash for my Snuggie… as soon as 180 days have passed and I can access my birthday money. Listen, promise me that whatever happens, if I really, really, really need something from eBay… you’ll let me bid using your account.