(WSPA) – Imagine ordering a costly heater and getting a straw hat 6 weeks later.
The Better Business Bureau warns those are the kind of mounting complaints against an online shopping site. And it turns out, the scope of the scheme to defraud shoppers out of their money is wider than at first glance.
Nicole Mendenhall, from Ohio, had been in the market for a heater for her Greenhouse. She found this one on a website called Ziyzlo.com. It was listed for nearly one-third of the price compared to the listing on Amazon.
“I went to check to make sure that it was an actual company based in the U.S., and there was his name and address and the whole kit and caboodle, so I felt OK about it,” said Mendenhall.
What Mendenhall didn’t realize was that the Marietta, Georgia address was actually the residence of a retired chemist named Joseph Johns. Johns said he had never seen the website, but he did see the company’s name in his mail.
“I’ve gotten maybe a half a dozen letters to that name… I just figured it was a mistake, looked at it and trashed it,” said Joseph Johns, the homeowner.
Some of those letters, were cease and desist notices from the Better Business Bureau.
Ginger Watson, the investigations director at the BBB, had been looking into the mounting complaints from people who had paid money and received nothing, or something close to that.
“Some of the complaints were literally they had ordered outdoor living items such as gas fireplaces, firepits, outdoor speakers, things like that. And what they did recieve was a leather coin purse or leather folding tissue box or a straw visor hat,” said Watson.
It turns out the web of lies spanned the web beyond just this one bogus site.
“The logos are very similar, [and] the layouts are very similar,” said Watson as she showed 7News four shopping sites (Ziyzlo.com, Zokgoc.com, Barrye.world, HTENCS.com). Not only did the sites look similar, but all have the exact same wording for their “About” section, including typos and the year they were created, even though they sell totally different products.
So why is it so hard to track down the creator of these sites? They have the same content delivery network, a hub that allows them to mask the host provider information.
The sites do list different addresses, but just like Johns’ home, the other three are private residences in New York, Texas and Minnesota.
“It’s a nice house, it’s a nice neighborhood, but it’s not a good address for a business,” said Johns, confused as to why the website developers had picked his house.
“Having heard everything you said, of course they would also take advantage of a random older guy, I mean that’s just par for the course,” said Mendenhall.
She may have little chance of getting her money back, but she’s determined to pay it forward, warning online shoppers to be leery about super low prices and sparse Google reviews that show a company hasn’t likely been around long.
Both 7News and the Better Business Bureau made several attempts to contact the companies using any emails or numbers provided, but we never heard back. Efforts are underway to get the sites taken down.
With new bogus shopping sites popping every day, the best advice is to use your credit card rather than a debit card when shopping online so that, if you get cheated out of your money, you can file a fraud report.