A Chicago-area business that uses multiple websites to sell everything from posters to coffee to jewelry, is under fire from dozens of consumers in Missouri and Illinois who claim they were misled by the company’s sales practices or charged for items they never ordered.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that Internet surfers might want to think twice before doing business with Web sites connected to Peel, Inc. (www.peel.com) of Evanston, Ill. On its headquarters site, Peel describes itself as a “pioneer in the field of Internet commerce and marketing.”
The BBB serving Chicago and Northern Illinois said the company has received more than 1,300 complaints in the past year, including 65 from Missouri and 44 from Illinois. It has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.
On its report, the BBB lists 19 different Peel, Inc., websites, including shopdani.com, which sells jewelry; seattlecoffeedirect.com, which sells coffee; and especially posters.com or posterpass.com, both of which sell a variety of types of posters. As of this week, those sites said they were not accepting new orders.
Complaints allege undisclosed or unauthorized charges, lack of clearly disclosed shipping and/or membership fees, and deceptive advertising. Many consumers say they received orders that were never ordered or authorized and difficulty obtaining refunds.
Several St. Louis area consumers said they were able to stop unauthorized charges only by canceling their credit or debit cards.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the St. Louis BBB, says Peel and its related businesses have left a “wide path of angry and disillusioned consumers” across the U. S. “This company has victimized consumers from California to New York. Sadly, the St. Louis region has had its fair share of problems.”
Many of the St. Louis area complainants say they initially accessed the Peel companies through Facebook, a popular social networking site.
A St. Charles, Mo., woman said her daughter accessed a Peel, Inc., poster site through Facebook this fall and used her parents’ debit card to order four posters for $15. The woman said her daughter began to receive additional poster shipments every two to three days, even though she had never ordered them. The company billed her $70 to $80 for each order, the woman said.
The woman said she was not able to get the orders stopped until she canceled her debit card with her bank, and only after she had been billed nearly $500. She said she tried multiple times to contact the company, but no one answered the phone and no one returned her calls. She called the experience “horrible.”
A St. Louis, Mo., woman said she too went through Facebook in November to access a Peel-related jewelry site. She said she paid $15 for a small sample of jewelry, but when she received the items, they were not the pieces she had ordered. In addition, she said, “it was the kind of stuff you could buy at Dollar General Store for a couple of bucks.”
She said she immediately canceled an enrollment offer for more jewelry, but the next day received “the same kind of garbage” and her debit card was billed for $89. A month later, she said, she received three more $89 orders, even though she had cancelled the offer. She too said she called the phone number listed on the shipping packages, but could never reach anyone. She said the unauthorized charges have forced $70 in overdraft fees.
“My money is very tight,” she said. “I’m a single mother with four kids and this is all coming right before Christmas. I got totally screwed over by these people.”
Yet another consumer, this one from Chesterfield, Mo., said her debit card was charged more than $160 for two packages of jewelry she never ordered. She said she had never ordered anything from the company and, in fact, had never visited its site.
“I have no idea who they are,” she said. She is disputing the charges with her bank.
Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Chicago area BBB, said that while the company is resolving their complaints with his office, there is an ongoing pattern of complaints concerning its business practices.
The BBB offers the following advice to consumers on preventing billing issues and other problems while shopping online:
- Make sure you read all policies, agreements, guarantees and instructions before signing anything or giving a charge number.
- Do not feel pressured into ordering before you are ready.
- Be wary of vaguely worded provisions, exclusions or limitations which could create a problem later.
- Be cautious of contradictory language on a Web site.
- Be wary of free or reduced-price trial offers. Often, the point of the trial offer is to get you to agree to enroll in a long-term agreement.
- Do not open packages you believe may contain items you did not order.
- If you do receive items you did not order, attempt to contact the company immediately. If that does not work, contact the bank that issued your charge card to dispute the charge.
- Check out a company’s reliability report through the BBB at www.bbb.org or at 1.800.675.8118 before doing business with it.