PayPal has never had a reputation for being a particularly upstanding organization to deal with, but its latest public misstep shows that there is nothing in this life or the next that can stop the company from tracking you down and wresting back your eBay profits from your cold, dead hands — and in this case, that’s not a metaphor.
The company recently sent a letter to a deceased woman explaining that her death violated PayPal’s terms and conditions, and promising to use debt collectors to reclaim her outstanding account balance. Companies demanding payment from dead people happens from time to time, since they aren’t automatically notified, but this case is particularly horrifying precisely because PayPal knew that the woman was dead, claimed that her death was a breach of contract rather than a tragedy, and promised to collect the money anyway.
The letter makes it very clear that PayPal understands the situation:
Dear Mrs. Lindsay Durdle,
This is a default notice served under section 87(1) of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Your account has an outstanding balance of £3,240.72.
Provision of Agreement Breached
You are in breach of condition 15-4(c) of your agreement with Paypal Credit as we have received notice that you are deceased. In accordance with condition 15-4(c), we are entitled to close your account, terminate your agreement and demand repayment of the full amount outstanding.
Nature of Breach
This breach is not capable of remedy.
It goes on to explain that PayPal would take whatever legal proceedings would be necessary, including using debt collectors, to reclaim the money.
Durdle’s widow gave some of the backstory in a Facebook post:
As soon as the story blew up, PayPal’s damage mitigation team swung into action. “We apologise unreservedly to Mr Durdle for the understandable distress this letter has caused,” the company said in a statement to TNW. “As soon as we became aware of this mistake, we contacted Mr Durdle directly to offer our support, cleared the outstanding debt and closed down his wife’s account as he requested. We are urgently reviewing our internal processes to ensure this does not happen again.”
The odd thing here is that it doesn’t seem like a mistaken template or a case of misunderstanding: the letter makes it clear that PayPal knew that Ms Durdle had passed away, and yet the letter was sent anyway. This case quickly got the attention it deserved thanks to a UK-based tech journalist being in a support group with Ms Durdle’s widow. But the practice of harrassing the family members of recently deceased individuals to pay for debts (which often they’re not legally liable for) is more widespread than just the odd mistake, and PayPal didn’t go out of its way to say that this incident was a one-off.