Lightsaber Scams: How a Good Sabersmith Goes Bad
Sometimes even a well-liked and established sabersmith (i.e. an individual who accepts lightsaber commissions) ultimately scams the lightsaber community, disappearing from the public eye and refusing to refund money and return lightsabers to buyers.
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Sabersmiths play a crucial role in the custom saber community by helping lightsaber enthusiasts turn their dream lightsaber into reality. A sabersmith may provide a variety services, ranging from accepting a commission on an entire scratch built lightsaber to more specialized services like: powder coating, etching, repairs, electronics installs or other modifications or customizations to an existing lightsaber hilt.
Many sabersmiths create gorgeous, high-quality, and well-appreciated work, all while providing excellent customer service and communication. How does a good sabersmith with an established reputation spiral out of control? Many follow a similar pattern and exhibit the same warning signs.
Watch How a Good Sabersmith Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale for Lightsaber Enthusiasts on YouTube
1. Lightsaber Project Gets Delayed
Order delays are unfortunately a common occurrence in the custom lightsaber community, whether you’re dealing with a sabersmith or one of the larger custom saber companies. Typically buyers are not overly concerned in the initial delay phase, because delays are frustratingly common in the custom saber community as a whole.
2. Customer Asks the Sabersmith for an Order Update
At some point during the delay phase the buyer contacts the sabersmith, asking for a status update on their order. The sabersmith may respond quickly or slowly. The sabersmith may apologize for the delay, provide an excuse or reason for the delay, and assure the customer that their order is important and will be completed soon.
3. Additional Emails
As more time passes, the buyer sends additional emails requesting a status update. The sabersmith may still assure the buyer their project will be completed. The buyer may ask the seller for a refund.
4. Communication Ends
Eventually, the sabersmith stops responding to the buyer’s messages at all. At this point, the buyer usually tries to get their money back by opening a Paypal claim, if possible.
What goes wrong?: A Sabersmith’s Downward Spiral
Typically a sabersmith stops responding to emails because they feel overwhelmed by customer requests and possibly by an unrelated, stressful life change. The sabersmith may also have taken on too many projects. It’s hard to turn down money that people are begging for you to take.
Sometimes a stressful event in the sabersmith’s life (e.g. death of a loved one, divorce, metal issues, injury, etc.) draws a sabersmith’s attention away from their lightsaber business as well. The sabersmith often cuts off communication with buyers altogether.
After losing contact with the sabersmith, many panicked buyers open Paypal claims simultaneously and the seller is unable to refund such a large sum of money at once. It’s kind of like if everyone visited a bank and wanted to withdraw their money at once–the bank wouldn’t have all of the money on hand. Due to Paypal’s strong buyer protections, buyers who open a claim will likely receive a refund either from the seller or from Paypal itself.
The overwhelmed sabersmith abandons the custom saber community altogether, stops issuing ‘voluntary’ refunds (to people who are unable to open a Paypal claim), and keeps all of the lightsabers and parts buyers have sent into them. The sabersmith disappears from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media never to be seen or heard from again.
What to do when communication with a sabersmith fails
Attempting to calmly communicate with the seller is always the best first step to resolving any problem. Keep your emails calm and professional. If the seller becomes non-responsive, then it might be time to think about requesting a refund. First, calmly ask the sabersmith if they will cancel your order and refund your money.
If the seller remains non-responsive or refuses to refund your money, then open a Paypal claim. Buyers may open a Paypal claim on Goods and Services payments within 180 days of the original payment date. A Paypal representative stated, “In some exceptional cases, we may be able to investigate the claim [after 180 days]. This normally only occurs if we receive a large volume of complaints against the seller” (Source: Refund After 180 Days; Retrieved 6/27/2019). Paypal Friends and Family payments DO NOT have any buyer protections.
If you paid by credit card, you may be able to open a chargeback to get your money back. Generally, chargebacks may be opened within 75-120 days of the original charge depending on your credit card. Contact you credit card company for more details.
Also, ask your country’s Consumer Advice organization for advice or file a complaint (e.g. United States buyers would contact the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection)
When the sabersmith has become non-responsive, you can search for or create a thread or group in Facebook, asking if anyone else is having the same problem (“Does anyone have an outstanding commission with ‘Seller XYZ’? They’re not responding to my emails”). Other individuals may know more about the situation than you. If you’re asking, “Where’s my order?”, then chances are someone else is asking the same question.
Lingering Effects: Bad sabersmith experiences scar the custom saber community
Lightsaber enthusiasts may get scammed out of hundreds or thousands of dollars from a once trusted sabersmith. A buyer may also lose a unique or hard to find lightsaber hilt that they had commissioned the sabersmith to customize.
Trust is a precious commodity in all aspects of life. Getting scammed by one sabersmith may make a buyer less likely to trust ANY sabersmith in the future.
How Lightsaber Buyers Can Protect Themselves
Buyers should research the sabersmith’s reputation in advance of payment. That said, multiple previously reputable sabersmiths have disappeared without refunding money buyers. Sadly, positive reputation is NOT enough of a buyer protection in itself. Buyers should pay sabersmiths with a payment method that offers strong buyer protections. Paypal, for example, offers strong buyer protections on Goods and Services payments. Credit cards also offer some buyer protections (contact your credit card provider for more info).
How Sabersmiths Can Prevent Their Own Downfall
One of the biggest ways sabersmiths can prevent their own downfall is by limiting the number of commissions they will accept at any given time. Ideally, sabersmiths would also keep an ’emergency fund’ of sorts so that they could refund the majority of their buyers, if not all of their buyers, if some type of personal crisis draws their attention away from their lightsaber commissions.
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Have you ever gotten scammed by a sabersmith? Please share your story in the comments section.