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Amazon tightens rules for sellers

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Fraud by third-party merchants could hurt brand integrity, some experts say

John Wocher bought the camera of his dreams from a seller on Amazon.com with nary a second thought, gleefully anticipating its arrival after wiring $4,549 to zShop merchant awesomediscount.com in January.

As February approached, Wocher stepped up the frequency of his e-mails with the seller, asking for the UPS tracking number, his concern growing after he had so amicably arranged the wire transfer from his home in Japan.

This was a civilized transaction, after all, conducted under the auspices of the King of Internet retailing.

But when Wocher e-mailed the seller once again to ask for the shipment's tracking number, he learned there was no longer such a user. An attempted visit to awesomediscount.com found that the Web site no longer existed.

Wocher had been duped. And while Amazon has since refunded his full price and changed its zShop policies to prevent such problems, some zShop merchants continue to violate the company's new rules, exposing consumers to the same sort of fraud.

Some experts say that the risk goes beyond the consumer to imperil Amazon's brand integrity as well, as reflected by the company's falling customer satisfaction ratings.
It took Wocher more than a month of indignant e-mails to Amazon's customer service department to achieve a resolution. It came the same day Amazon changed its policies to cap zShop and Auction sales at $2,475.

Under that new policy, all purchases made through Auctions and zShops must be made via Amazon Payments, assuring the coverage of many of the site's third-party transactions by the company's A-to-Z guarantee, which promises up to a $2,500 refund on a purchase gone wrong.

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