Scammed by that toilet paper or coronavirus face mask you bought online? Join the club
The ads are enticing, no doubt about it.
Forty-count mega rolls of Charmin Ultra Soft. Twelve double rolls of Quilted Northern Ultra Plush. Face masks, Clorox wipes and paper towels.
“Hot sale! In stock now!” they say. “3-7 Days Express Delivery.”
Don’t delay, the toilet paper ads warn. “17461 sold in last 24 hours. WE HAVE VERY LIMITED QUANTITIES AT THIS PRICE!!”
The operative word is “limited.” And for many consumers, it’s more like “zero.”
As the coronavirus winds its destructive path through the country, products like toilet paper, disinfectants and protective masks remain in high demand. And as frenzied buyers go online in search of those scarcities, scammers are out in full force, playing on COVID-19 fears in an effort to defraud them.
“No shipment of toilet paper but they took my money quick enough,” wrote one angry customer in a complaint to PayPal last week. “I can’t believe paypal would continue doing business with this scammer from China…This scammer has toilet paper on 3-4 different websites all of which were opened in Feb of this year. They present themselves as a company in U.S. but buyers beware! DO NOT ORDER FROM THESE SCAMMERS!!”
Said another: “Yup, same here. Thought it was from legit company and it switched. Sent email with no response.”
The company, pattops.com, did not respond to a request for comment. On its website, it promises to “Ship within 24 hours after payment” and offers a money-back guarantee on its products. “99.3% of Reviewers Recommends This Product,” it says. In the photo of the toilet paper it is selling, the word “Northern” is spelled “Northen.”
Documents show the company only recently registered its site on Jan. 21. The registration was updated on March 24.
Another buyer said in a March 30 complaint to PayPal that after placing an order with pattops.com an email arrived with a link to view the order. But the link was invalid, the buyer said. The buyer’s bank statement showed that the PayPal payment did not go to pattops.com but to the Weihongda Trading Co. Ltd. in China.
Twenty-nine other people reported having the same problem. Weihongda Trading Co. did not respond to a request for comment.
Facebook has been brimming in recent weeks with such ads, and many customers have paid for their orders through PayPal. Neither Facebook nor PayPal responded to a request for comment.
Several other companies have been running nearly identical ads on Facebook for paper products, including ryop.shop, khipo.shop, cellmert.com, serlyn.com, julymax.com and setone.shop.
All list China as the registrant country for their websites, and all have registered within recent months.
Cellmert.com is advertising Charmin Ultra Soft Cushiony Touch, 10 rolls for $22.99. Its website says the company has a rating of five out of five stars.
But the online site itisreviewed.com notes that the company has no valid contact information, no customer reviews on its products and “no social media presence in this age where all legit online stores have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”
Its conclusion: “Cellmert.com is a scam online store and therefore not recommended for use.”
When The Star repeatedly called the number listed on Cellmert’s website, it rang and rang but no one ever answered. The phone number — which has a San Francisco area code — is shared by several other online shopping companies.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office has not received any complaints about the companies The Star inquired about, said Chris Nuelle, spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
“But if there are consumers out there who have lost money or have been duped by this, we want to hear from them,” Nuelle said. “With a lot of these scams, especially online, it makes it really hard for us. They just divert through all these shell people or companies so nobody can really get on their trail.”
And if the companies are based outside the United States, he said, it makes them even harder to trace.
“But we still want to hear from people,” Nuelle said. “If there’s a chance we can do something, we will.”
The hotline number for making a complaint is 800-392-8222. Consumers also can fill out these forms: https://ago.mo.gov/app/consumercomplaint and https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/price-gouging.
Buyers need to be extremely cautious when shopping online, Nuelle said.
“Especially now, these scammers are trying to take advantage of the coronavirus situation,” he said. “If the website name looks fishy or the product looks fishy, it probably is.”
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office said consumers should take several steps when shopping online to ensure they don’t fall victim to scammers.
Make sure the website you’re buying from is a trusted, reputable seller. Today’s technology has made it easy for scammers to set up fake online stores and products that may not even exist.
“If you’re considering buying from a website you’ve never used before, do a search for that website’s name and check their reviews on other trusted sites,” the attorney general’s office said. “Do not rely on the reviews on the seller’s site, as these could be just as fake as the product they are selling.”
If consumers believe they’ve been scammed, they should file a complaint with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office on a form specifically designed for COVID-19-related issues or call 800-432-2310 to request that a paper complaint form be sent by mail.
Consumers can also report concerns to the Better Business Bureau’s “scam tracker” at www.bbb.org/scamtracker.
One online site that has recently generated multiple complaints to the Better Business Bureau is woo-kids.com.
On March 24, a customer in Idaho wrote: “I went to the Target website to order toilet paper. This product came up from ‘Woo-Kids’. I ordered $60 worth of toilet paper and it appears to be a scam.”
Try calling up the site now, however, and you’ll be redirected to one called courieres.com. That website was registered on Jan. 7, documents show, and the registrant’s address is in Beijing. At the top of the home page are the words, “the toilet paper will be delivered to you, don’t worry.”
It’s not just sales of paper products and cleaning supplies that are rousing shoppers’ ire.
“Beware! COVID-19 Scam!!” a consumer told the Better Business Bureau on April 1. “Bought and paid for an N95 mask over a month ago. The customer service email sent me a tracking number after a month but the tracking number doesn’t match. The website no longer works. I believe this is a scam to steal money from people during a mass pandemic.”
The company, heavezt.com, describes itself as “your new portal for online shopping in a simple and easy way.” It gives an address of Austin, Texas, on its website. Records show the site was created on Jan. 1, and the registrant’s country is Morocco.
When The Star called the number on the company’s website, the person who answered said to contact the founder, David, then provided a phone number that didn’t work. The email on the website that was to be used for contacting the company misspelled the company’s name.
The Better Business Bureau has given Heavezt LLC an F and warns consumers not to do business with the company.
The BBB received a new complaint about the company on Tuesday, this one from a consumer in Oregon.
“I ordered masks and filters from this company totaling 125$,” the buyer wrote on the BBB’s “scam tracker” site. “End of february ordered and never heard from them. So i tried emailing to inquire. Email came back undeliverable, phone number did not work, they had a 24/7 chat option which took you to a different website…basically could not get a hold of the company.”
The buyer tried posting reviews to warn others but said they were deleted — as were other bad reviews that popped up. Then reviews were disabled altogether.
“It’s a scam. Never received items. Disgusting company taking advantage of people during this pandemic. They need to be stopped!”
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