Watchdog: Dec. 16, 2012

Nancy Lecours of Somers has been buying merchandise online for years without any problems.

But when she ordered a set of national park quarters for her 10-year-old grandson from an established coin Internet business, she thought she got scammed.

Lecours has been using coins to help her grandson learn about geography. She wanted to purchase special quarters that were minted to honor the national parks. Based on a search on Google she discovered a deal from Littleton Coin Co. where she could receive a set of 15 coins for $5.95.

She placed her order online and paid for it by American Express. But when she received the set she also received four other coins and a bill for $19.91 for this "Special Offer," which the company claimed had a $28.45 value.

"I didn't order them and I don't want them," she told CtWatchdog. She asked if she was being scammed.

Lecours said the package did come with a return envelope that permitted her to return the "Special Offer" for free if she didn't want to keep the coins.

She didn't trust it, worrying that if she did not pay the Post Office extra to make sure she could prove Littleton received the coins, she would end up being charged anyway.

She called American Express asking if they could block further charges from Littleton. An American Express representative told her that the credit card firm can only block bills after they have received them, not before.

"I spoke to American Express and was advised that this is a common scam and that I will likely continue to be sent and billed for coins that I never ordered or wanted and that I will have to keep checking my Amex account and calling to dispute the charges after they occur," Lecours said.

Littleton says Lecours is not being scammed and that she received a "special promotional offer" for the 15 coins that included a second set she could buy or mail back without a charge.

The special promotional offers are "loss leaders" said Littleton spokeswoman Jill Kimball, with the hope that the company can entice consumers to purchase additional coins.

She said the fine print on the offer clearly stated that additional coins would be sent as part of the special deal.

"We have offered this risk-free service since 1945. It's a model built on mutual trust that has provided thousands of collectors the unique opportunity to examine coins free of charge while they decide if they would like to add them to their collection. This trust means that even if customers such as Ms. Lecours never returned the coins, we trust that they did, and they would not be held responsible or repeatedly billed," Kimball said.

"We apologize that Ms. Lecours was inconvenienced and that she was provided with inaccurate information from her credit card company. Her credit card would never be charged without her instruction to do so."

Littleton, a New Hampshire firm, has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau with only a couple of complaints over the past few years. There are few complaints about the company on Internet complaint sites.

Based on my research into Littleton and on the responses from the company, I am convinced the firm is legit and is not out to rip off consumers.

What I have a problem is with using "fine print" to announce that the company is sending additional products that were not requested. It is a common ruse by less reputable firms to pressure customers to purchase unwanted merchandise.

Littleton would be better off by boldly stating that special deals come with extra coins. The message should be visible so that no one can say they missed it. And of course the customer has the responsibility to read the complete offer to make sure they know what they are buying.

The story ends with Littleton sending Lecours an email Dec. 7 telling her she can keep the four extra coins for free.

"Please keep the additional coins you received from our Coins on Approval service with our compliments. In addition, your account has been cleared and we removed your name from our mailing list. You will not receive anything further from us with the exception of a mailing, non product that may have crossed in the mail," she was told.

You can reach The Watchdog at george@ctwatchdog.com And check out www.CtCondoNews.com for condo consumer news in Connecticut.

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