Like many teenagers, 15-year-old Charlie Johnson, of Grosse Pointe, likes to have the coolest athletic shoes he can find.
However, he learned an expensive lesson while shopping online and his complaint helped lead the Better Business Bureau to issue a consumer warning.
"I was just shopping around trying to get a good deal," remember Johnson, who will be a sophomore at University of Detroit Jesuit High School.
When he spoke with Ruth to the Rescue, he was wearing some genuine Charles Barkley athletic shoes, but he went online looking for some Jordan 11 Cool Grey's.
"You find a site that's selling ... Jordans. The pictures look good, and they're cheap. Cheaper than other places," he remembered.
Hot Shoes, Big Business
Johnson says the shoes he wanted have a re-sale value of more than $300 on many sites, like eBay. He says there's a market out there as teenagers search for the specific shoes they want to buy. He says when he found a pair on GenuineKicks for about $120, he made the purchase.
By the time the shoes arrived, he's some more research. When he opened them, he noticed some things weren't quite right.
"I got 'em and I was looking around, and I saw certain things that make them fake, and I was like 'Wow! These are actually fake!'"
When his emails to the website went unanswered, this teenager contacted the Better Business Bureau here in Eastern Michigan.
"I just went online and filed a complaint or investigation," Charlie Johnson told Ruth to the Rescue.
Better Business Bureau Investigates
It turns out the Better Business Bureau had seen several complaints from customers who also said they received counterfeit shoes, or no shoes at all. Agents from the bureau even posed as a customer trying to get more information from the company, but there email exchanges did not prove very
Johnson understands the frustration all the disappointed customers must be feeling.
"I'd do better homework. I'd try to find a better deal, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is," said the teenager who learned a valuable consumer lesson.
After its investigation, the Better Business Bureau released a warning telling customers not to buy shoes from Genuine Kicks or Genuinekickz using the website http://ajdeals.bravesites.com
Here's a portion of the the agency's warning: "The BBB urges consumers to be wary of the promise of expensive athletic shoes at a low cost due to the complaints received at the BBB as well as their questionable business practices." You can find more details, and the agency's "F" rating for the website
through this link.
The Better Business Bureau says it sent a certified letter to a P.O. Box in Auburn Hills connected to the website. It says someone signed for the letter, but never answered the consumer complaints. Ruth to the Rescue could not find a phone number for the site, which is usually a red flag. Businesses should have a working customer service line.
The Better Business Bureau also passes along several guidelines to consider when shopping online:
Tips for Purchasing Online
• Know the Website. Before ordering any merchandise online, check the URL link to make sure it starts with "https://" (the "s" means it is secure). Also look for a small padlock icon usually located at the corner of the URL bar. These symbols tell shoppers that a website is secure. Make sure to confirm the address and phone number of the online business in case there are any issues contacting them.
• Read and Compare. When buying a product, read the whole description including the fine print. It is important to understand the details of the product being purchased so there are no surprises when it’s delivered. Check competitor prices to guarantee the lowest price. There are many online resources that allow the comparison of products and offer coupon codes to get a better deal.
• Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a "deal" that might cost them dearly in the end. Google the company name and read reviews, and customer comments. Always check the company’s BBB Online Business Review at www.bbb.org prior to purchase.
• Check the Return Policy. Read the return policy to see if the business allows a full refund if the customer is not happy with the product. Review the policy to see who pays for the cost of shipping and handling for the return.
• Choose the Correct Payment Method. Always pay with a credit card when shopping online. A purchase with a credit card is protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act. This allows customers to briefly hold payment while a problem is reviewed and resolved. This act also protects customers in the event that credit card information is stolen and used without permission. Make sure to print the receipts and product information of any online purchases to prevent incorrect charges. Do not wire transfer money to anyone you do not know. Money sent via wire transfer is practically impossible to track.
• In the Event of Online Fraud. If there is a problem with a purchase or business, complaints can be filed with the Better Business Bureau to help resolve the issue. The Federal Trade Commission also handles complaints at www.ftc.gov/complaint.