Debbie Hughes makes her living by selling products via the Internet. Earlier this year, the Broadview Heights woman learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of online purchases.
Hughes paid $228 for what turned out to be counterfeit merchandise by a company doing business as “Tiffany & Company On Sale,” which tried to represent itself as the real Tiffany & Co. jewelry store based in New York.
“The Web site looked official and they had a heart tag toggle bracelet and necklace set that I was looking for at a very good price,” Hughes said.
Hughes considers herself a savvy Internet shopper, especially because she sells products online through Amazon.com and other Web sites. She found the counterfeit merchandise while doing some early Christmas shopping in January for a particular Tiffany & Co. bracelet and necklace set. She went online, and after typing in a search for “Tiffany jewelers,” she found a Web site called Tiffany & Company On Sale on the first page, along with several others.
The set was advertised for $228, which was more than 60-percent off the Tiffany & Co. price for the merchandise.
After placing the order, Hughes received a long confirmation number, and that’s when the scam alert sensor went off in her head. U.S. confirmation codes are typically only six characters. Hughes questioned why a New York-based company would be shipping her a product from a foreign country.
“I’ve done enough shopping to know that this was an international shipping number, and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”
When Hughes went back to the Web site, she couldn’t find a customer service number to call – only an e-mail address.
She found the real Tiffany & Co. site and was told by a customer service representative that the merchandise she ordered was from a fraudulent company.
Although Hughes was able to get the order canceled via e-mail, Tiffany & Company On Sale told her she would not receive a refund until she returned the merchandise, which she had yet to receive.
“They told me I had to return what to me was clearly cheap, chrome jewelry to get the refund after they had already canceled the order,” Hughes said. “This would have cost me an additional $25, which I was not going to pay.”
Hughes then placed a call to the Better Business Bureau of Greater Cleveland. The BBB contacted the real Tiffany & Co. and found out they had received many reports from customers about the Tiffany & Company On Sale site, particularly regarding the site’s disclaimer, which reads, “This website is an Online Jewelry Store to provide Tiffany & Co. silver jewelry overstock products at discount prices. All products are new and unused.”
The representative at the real Tiffany & Co. told the BBB that Tiffany’s never has overstock items available for resale.
Perhaps further confusing to the consumer is the fact that the Tiffany & Company On Sale Web site ends with the “.mn” suffix. Consumers could easily mistake the site as being registered in Minnesota, when, in fact, it is registered in Mongolia.
According to the BBB, online shoppers should always be alert to “cybersquatters” – those using a Web site domain name that mimics popular brands – and sites that claim to sell well-known brand name goods at discounted prices. You can check a company’s BBB rating at Cleveland.BBB.org.
For Hughes, that lesson was learned the hard way. Eventually the $228 she spent was refunded on her credit card, but only after months of phone calls, faxes and e-mails sent to prove she was the victim – a process she’d rather not go through again.
“I’ll never order anything again without making sure there is an 800 number to call, and, of course, what everyone says – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”