This guest post has been prepared by our partner Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris.  Chris spent several years working for Amazon evaluating seller account performance for Amazon’s merchant assessment teams.  Now he works with merchants to help them work with Amazon.  Here he offers some expert advice on what to do in the event your Amazon account is suspended. For the avoidance of doubt these strategies and opinions are not those of World First USA, Inc.

In the past several weeks, many sellers have come to me with horror stories about lost funds and account compromises, where their account was hacked and their bank details changed.  Some sellers regained access to their accounts after following Amazon’s instructions and began to set things back to normal. However, normality didn’t last long and sellers found themselves compromised again. Amazon teams don’t take any chances.  If they think a mistake was made when sanitizing your account the first time, or that your password reset didn’t take, they’ll put you through the same rigmarole again.

Eventually, each of these suspension situations gets sorted out.  Many sellers that we helped get reinstated confronted another problem upon reinstatement; How do they get back the funds that Amazon sent overseas to the hacker’s account? Typically, we saw bank accounts in Croatia, Poland and Hungary fattened up as a result of this spike in account compromises.

The question is a legitimate one.  Why didn’t Amazon’s systems pick up the change in bank account information and halt all transfers of funds overseas? This is what internal teams refer to as a “known issue”. Going through all of the flagged accounts manually by investigators takes too long. This leads us to another question, how many investigators remain that are well-trained in what’s known as a VCAC, Veteran Customer Account Compromise? All evidence in recent months and years points to Amazon scaling back seasoned investigative teams in Seattle and pushing more of the work to India, where labor costs are lower and multiple teams are already in place.  Unfortunately, those teams also experience high turnover. This raises suspicion over whether or not newer staff are being taught the same methods as older, more experienced teams.

All evidence points to no.  Times change and people come and go from Amazon, but one phenomenon remains the same:  account compromises will always impact Amazon sellers. One recent change is that instead of catching those compromises before any money left the building, large amounts of money leave and Amazon fails to catch it.  The problem can be traced to anything from sellers failing to protect their account security to Amazon’s long queue of sellers who were flagged for financial information changes and were unable to be reviewed due to a shortage of investigators. While we can point fingers at who caused the problem, the end result is clear.  Were funds only recently sent over? Could the transfer be halted and the funds sent to the proper account after all?

If this happened to you, how much pressure would you put on Amazon to fix their mistakes and return your rightful cash into your pocket?

Sellers both individually and cumulatively lost substantial sums of money. So, who pays when “account compromises” happen?

Sellers pay, if they give up early.

Don’t do that.

Leszek, a seller we worked with, didn’t give up and was able to reach the finish line.  ALL of his funds were reimbursed, not just a partial payment to settle things. Persistence paid off.  It’s likely that Amazon didn’t want numerous sellers clogging the forums with VCAC horror stories about funds that were transferred offshore for no apparent reason other than the incompetence of investigators.  That kind of report could spread like wildfire, and undermine seller faith in the security of their payments.  You don’t need to be a former Amazonian like me to know how that would go over internally.  Likely, Jeff himself would push all relevant department heads and VPs to shut down any doubts right away.

Here’s the letter to Jeff that moved things along once Seller Support cases failed to move the needle, as they often do.  Keep this in mind while reading the below.

Dear Mr. Bezos,

We are writing to you as all of our attempts to get any actionable response from the Amazon Seller Performance teams have been unsuccessful. We hope we can get our account back on track to serve Amazon customers.

Our account was suspended on April 4th, as an unauthorized party may have gained access to our account. Additionally, we noticed there was an unauthorized transfer initiated to a foreign bank account of $4,500.00. We have responded with an appeal as instructed on April 5th. We received an acknowledgment the appeal was received and we should expect a reply by April 6th.

On April 7th, we have received a performance notification that the account is still under a review with no next steps or ETA.

In the meantime, we opened several cases with Seller Support to get more information on the situation. The two most recent cases are: 00000000 and 11111111. The first one has been in “Transferred” state since April 5th, while the latter one in “Pending Amazon Action” since April 7th.

Given all this, we would expect Amazon to be more responsive in resolving this case. At this point, we have no idea where we stand and what we should expect in terms of being able to sell on Amazon again. This situation is reflecting poorly on our brand and negatively impacting the customer experience on Amazon.

We hope to get a resolution on this case ASAP so we can remain on the Amazon platform and continue to serve Amazon customers.

Best Regards,

Leszek Lekstan, Adrevio

Ultimately, with the right kind of pressure and again, persistence, the effort paid off. Leszek kept at them and continued to request his funds, which despite an account compromise indication had flown overseas to a foreign bank not associated with him in any way, shape, or form.  Any tool or investigation would have caught it, under normal circumstances, but Amazon was overwhelmed with VCACs.  Too many accounts needed to be reviewed and tools may have broken.  Changes like this were not caught in time, and of course, fraudsters know that these tools are imperfect, as well as the people using them.  Through no fault of Amazon’s, thieves always seek out porous gaps in processes, tools, or people in order to grab at loose cash.  The following letter is the response that Leszek received from Amazon.

Hello from Amazon.com,

My name is Liz, and I’m a member of the Amazon.com Executive Seller Relations Team. Jeff Bezos received your email and requested that I research the issue and respond on his behalf.

I understand that you are contacting us because you Amazon.com Seller Account recently experienced an account compromise and as a result you have faced issues with reinstating your suspended account and being reimbursed for funds that were transferred to an incorrect bank account. I sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.

After researching your concern, I can see that access to your Selling privileges have recently been reinstated and access to your Seller Account should be restored at this time. I can also see that a request to refund 4500.00 USD has already been submitted and should just be pending one additional approval at this time. I have reached out to request that this be expedited if possible and I sincerely appreciate all of your patience throughout this process.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions at this time and I will be back in touch with you as soon as I have heard a response regarding your refund.

I hope you have a great day.

Best regards,

Queen Elizabeth

Amazon.com Executive Seller Relations

My conclusion? Learn from Leszek! Don’t give up, assuming you accidentally allowed this to happen and cost yourself thousands of dollars.  Depending on the individual case and situation, you may have plenty of cause to demand payment of those “lost” funds, especially when you catch it right away.

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