MEMPHIS, TENN. — It was a price that a mother of three just couldn’t ignore: $76.99 for a Disney Castle playset.
A deal ‘too good to be true’
“Normally, I don’t fall for scams,” said the 42-year-old mother of three, who asked not to disclose her name because of identity theft concerns. “I’m a very skeptical person.”
In early August, she excitedly paid the price for the product on a website called RowPet.com. The site, which has since been taken down, had the Walmart logo embedded on every page. That mother said she never did receive the item.
“It looks legitimate,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge amount of money, but it doesn’t feel good to be ripped off.”
A string of websites claiming a Memphis address
There are countless victims from 33 websites that all claim the same address: 3878 Austin Peay Highway in Memphis.
“Normally I don’t fall for scams,” she said. “I’m a very cynical person. But this one, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I have to order this right now!’”
The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South warns that anyone can fall victim to an online shopping scam.
“It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter how much education you have,” said Daniel Irwin, a BBB spokesman. “Anybody can fall for a scam.”
Who is running the websites?
FOX13 teamed up with BBB staffers to investigate who was behind the sites. The address belongs to AP Tobacco Shop in the Covington Springs Shopping Center. Irwin sent multiple letters to the store – all of which went unanswered.
After dozens of phone calls, FOX13 and the Better Business Bureau of Mid-South approached the shop to ask if they knew anything about the sites.
“We’ve been trying to actually get in touch with you,” Irwin told a staffer. “We’ve been calling. We’ve been sending letters.”
An employee promised the store had nothing to do with the fake sites, promising to alert the owner of AP Tobacco Shop.
Business owner: ‘I’ve been scammed like you’
Within hours, the owner of the shop contacted Irwin and promised to address the concerns. Wesam Alsaoaa visited the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South in person, insisting that he knew nothing about the websites.
“People are going to get scared and not trust our business,” he said. “It’s a bad feeling.”
He said people scammed by the websites have mistakenly left bad reviews for his shop. Alsaoaa told FOX13 he knew nothing of who was behind the sites.
“I’m sorry for anybody who was scammed by these websites,” he said. “I wish I could do something to you or help you, but I’ve been scammed like you, as well.’”
Avoiding scams during the holiday season
A website may showcase the logos of official brands, but that doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Double-check that the URL matches the official company website. Search for phone numbers and verified contact information on the site. Use credit cards whenever possible for additional protection in the event of a scam.
Thankfully, FOX13 worked with PayPal to reimburse the money that the Ohio mother lost on her toy purchase. Moving forward, she said she will rely on instinct over impulse.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.
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