Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
No Facebook refund?

I've been playing a lot of Facebook games this year before my account got banned. Facebook games are "Free2Play", as in "free to start playing, but we'll happily take your money for this or that comfort / fluff / other virtual item". And as I don't mind spending some money on games I like, I did in fact buy some virtual stuff for various games via Facebook credits. The payments went from my Paypal account to "Facebook Ireland". Now I'm not talking big money here, but nevertheless I feel as if I have been expropriated. Apparently I was real enough for Facebook to accept my money, until they decided I was not real enough to keep my account.

So the interesting question is whether there is any way to get my money back. Paypal, unfortunately, is not help. Their "buyer protection" guarantee only covers tangible items, virtual items are explicitly excluded. Which is probably a wise choice on their part, because virtual property rights are a legal mess.

Just last week I spent $11 on Dungeon Overlord. I obviously wouldn't have done that if I had known that I would be banned from Facebook this week. It is not as if I had bought something which I have already "consumed", rather I bought some long-term advantages for my dungeon (more tiles, more goblins). And by banning me, Facebook prevents me from taking advantage of my purchases.

Imagine you go to your bank and they tell you that they closed your account because they found that something in your original application for that account wasn't conform with their terms of service which you didn't read closely enough. And oh, by the way, as your account is now closed, the bank keeps all the money that was on that account. Obviously you would have legal recourse, and could send them a lawyer to get your money back. The same thing would apply if you pre-paid for a service, let's say a holiday, and then the travel company finds some reason to not give you that service. You would have the right to a refund.

So how exactly would that work with virtual purchases? Is there any way I could get my money back from Facebook? If not, what is the legal argument permitting them to keep my money without giving me access to the virtual stuff I bought? What if you give money to Blizzard, let's say for a 6-month subscription and a sparkle pony, and Blizzard bans your WoW account the next day, can you get your money back? What exactly would permit a company selling virtual goods to deny you use of your virtual purchases, without giving you a refund? Apart from the obvious problem that the legal cost would be far higher than the possible refund, what are my legal options against Facebook?

Well, I guess somewhere in the depths of the EULA there's a clause that goes something like this: "If you get banned for violating our terms of service there will be no refunds since it is your own fault for violating them."
Well, you essentially bought Station Cash from SOE for Dungeon Overlord, if they are following their past plan.

Unfortunately, as I recall reading back with The Agency: Covert Ops, you had to make a special Station Account for Facebook.

That might have changed since, so there is a possibility you could spend your Station Cash in some other SOE game. But I am going to bet that is unlikely.

SOE has to give a cut to Facebook one way or another, and so will likely want to keep that sort of thing segregated.
If I'm not mistaken Blizzard DOES keep your money if they ban you.
If you choose to go against a site's TOS I don't think you have the right to complain later, even if a problem is discovered down the road.

Employers and colleges can get rid of you if they discover you've lied about something on your application when you were hired.
I'm sure it's in their T&C's somewhere, but that doesn't necessarily make it legal. You can't stick access to someone's kidneys in you fine print and then expect them not to complain when they wake up in an ice bath.

But it probably gets trickier as you didn't pay Facebook any money did you? You paid the publisher of the game. If you buy a game for a PC that then gets confiscated for being stolen, you can't expect a refund of the game price.
I think it would be more like buying a vanity pet in WoW, and getting banned the next week. Or buying an quest pack in LOTRO and then getting banned.

Your $11 was to enhance your account. Once spent that $11 only had value for what you could you with your account.

I guess in real life, it would be like paying someone to do additional electrical wiring in your apartment, and then having your lease cancelled. You wouldn't get your money back because you could no longer use the new wiring.
The payments went from my Paypal account to "Facebook Ireland"

As an Irishman myself I reckon I am entitled to make the obvious joke: This poor little country is a bit short on ready cash at the moment so if you could just leave the $11 with us for a bit longer it would be useful!
Paypal are, as best I can tell, entirely useless for refunds. I've had a few friends report success by disputing the charges via their bank (which means the bank extract the money from Paypal, and thus they are no longer in a position to simply fob you off with 'too late' or similar).

This all relates to ebay purchase disputes, though.
I don't know how it works in your jurisdiction but in the UK we have an online claims system for small civil disputes.

You should first of all feel that they owe you money. It sounds to me as if they do, you paid them for services they didn't give you.

If so the procedure is that you write to them explaining what happened, how much you feel you are owed, and giving them a deadline to respond.

If they don't you use the claim system to claim what you are owed through the courts. It's perfectly feasible to represent yourself with no legal training (I've done several of these, two of which made it to court, all of which I've won).

They can choose to fight it or settle it. Anyone with sense tends to settle it.

If for some mad reason they fight you you could bring a reporter if you really want to make them suffer. (Alternatively you could keep yourself private, especially if they settle you could insist on a privacy clause in the settlement agreement). There's no appeal, if they lose in this court they pay you and it's done and dusted.

It's possible that your real identity might get "outed" if you take them to court but only if Facebook make a point of doing so. It's not as if some trivial court case for 50 euros is front page news.

I'm not sure if I remember right but I think you're Belgian. Here's the relevant part of Wikipedia:

No appeal up to 1860 Euros.

Regarding Eulas and TOSes they have some weight but are not completely binding, especially if you argue they contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. It'll be up to the JP on the day.

Don't worry too much about heavy league lawyers. It's my experience that JPs in these courts really don't like people trying to be too clever.

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions that are "in accordance with law" and "necessary in a democratic society".
“ Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Try that if they cite the TOS at you! ECHR > some crappy company's shrinkwrap any day of the week.
I thought most TOS don't hold up in court? I swear I read that somewhere. Would love for Tobold to actuall fight this just to see how it ends. :)
Unfortunately the biggest fault here is yours. By using a fake FB account you put yourself in a bad position.

They don't check accounts (usually), it would be just impossible. They do that when someone reports a specific user. In that case you are screwed.

Google+ does the same but it warns you, before suspending the account.
You know, as far as I am concerned, Tobold didn't use a fake Facebook account. He publishes a blog under the Pseudonym Tobold, and was on Facebook and is on Google+ as Tobold. That is his identity on the internet, much in the same way that Samuel Clemens is Mark Twain. I guess that's really the question then, would Facebook ban Mark Twain if he signed up for an account, or not?

Now, based on the other post, the name isn't the reason they banned the account, the way the games were played is. That seems like it would have even less standing for them keeping your money.
"Imagine you go to your bank and they tell you that they closed your account because they found that something in your original application for that account wasn't conform with their terms of service which you didn't read closely enough. And oh, by the way, as your account is now closed, the bank keeps all the money that was on that account."

Actually that is happening quite often with paypal.
I am sure the EULA had some kind of language where the credits are assume "spent when bought" and if you violate the TOS they are forfeited.

Like perhaps unused months of a membership somewhere but you violate a severe rule and get banned.

This is why people really, really, really should start looking elsewhere besides Facebook for casual gaming and social gaming. Sure, its a TINY BIT more work, but its worth it.
@Kobeathris: While I agree with you to some extent, Tobold is not the only person with a well-known pseudonym identity. Facebook expects such users to still create an account under an actual name, and then to create a page for the other identity. It's possible to actually navigate and post to other pages as a page rather than your account, so I don't really see your argument as holding much water.

I, personally, do not use facebook under my real name -- it has my real first name and a fake last name, but it looks real and will likely never be banned -- if I wanted to use facebook as one of my internet identities, I would do so within the system they've established.
@Saucelah - I actually didn't know you could do that. I'll have to take a look when I get home. I do most of my Facebooking through mobile, which doesn't have any of that.
Try Ren Reynold's summary of current law on the topic -

It's important to note that US citizens almost certainly signed their rights away in a contract, and that's where the story ends. In the EU, consumer protection and individual rights can over-ride a contract, and hence in the EU legal unknowns become more relevant.
Facebook may define any conditions and terms they wish.

However any terms they stipulate have to fall within the laws of the state/country they operate within.

I would suggest if you were within the UK that you contact a body called 'Trading Standards'. There is one associated with each and every council.

A phone call to them is often enough for them to contact a company to resolve an issue. The company contacted is then legally obliged to define and explain why they did what ever they did.

If they do not co-operate, trading standards will take legal action against them to resolve the issue.

The trick is to convey to Trading Standards that you believe Facebook have acted unreasonably. This isn't as hard as you may think.

Thus options are there to fight this without paying a penny or euro.

Does such a body exist in your state/country?
your legal options are none...

Your only recourse in an online transaction is to petition your payment system to declare the transaction fraudulent... (failure to deliver goods) and hope the payment system is legit enough to make you whole.

This is why you ALWAYS use a credit card online. Not a debit, not an ATM, not a PayPal, not a funds transfer, not an echeck.

A real honest to goodness credit card.

In a credit card transaction your payment to the credit card company is delayed usually with enough time to verify goods are actually received.

With any other form of payment your payment clears usually well before goods are delivered.

So in essence your goals and a credit card companies goals are aligned from the outset. They want you to get your goods so you can pay them... otherwise you have good legal grounds to NOT pay the credit card company.

for what it is worth American Express (as a legacy travel and entertainment card) is VERY GOOD in this area. They will debit the vendor in almost all cases on a card members say so.

Visa Mastercard, discover... not so much... but that's a different story, the bank just credits your account and calls it a loss usually if it's not too big.
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