Dillon Bosco thought he had hit it big.
An unsolicited call to his cellphone announced that he had won a "diamond" watch and qualified for a $1 million sweepstakes. All the 18-year-old had to do was pay shipping and handling for the watch.
By the end of the call, Bosco's father says Seminole-based Gulfbay Magazines Inc. had duped his son out of $1,195.92 for magazine subscriptions. And when they tried to cancel, Gulfbay refused.
"I spent countless hours on the phone with this Gulfbay Magazine," said Michael Deutsch, Bosco's father. He acknowledged that his son bears some responsibility for the order. Still, he noted, "We haven't even received any" magazines.
The Better Business Bureau of Southwest Florida says the case fits a similar pattern of dozens of complaints the agency has received over the past three years about Gulfbay.
Concern about the company led the BBB to post its new "alert" warning on Gulfbay Magazines' listing on the bureau's website.
"Consumers should understand that this company has a pattern of complaints alleging certain business activities," said John Zajac, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Southwest Florida. "They should take that into account when considering doing business with them."
Over the past three years, the BBB received 86 complaints from 33 states about Gulfbay Magazines. Gulfbay is not a BBB-accredited company and has a C- rating.
Zajac said the owners of Gulfbay Magazines have operated other subscription businesses from the same company address. Those companies, too, have had a series of complaints, including International Magazine Company Inc., which had 211 complaints closed from 2008 to 2011, and Omnipresent, which had 372 complaints, mostly from 2007 to 2008.
Drea Cecot, a receptionist at the company, said officials there had no comment.
Deutsch, who lives in Centennial, Colo., said Gulfbay Magazine solicited his son after he turned 18 this year, opened a checking account and got a debit card.
On Aug. 14, the teen received the phone call with the prize offerings. The company charged $40 to his new debit card and promised him the diamond watch.
The watch arrived, but without any precious gems.
"It was Chinese brand that you can buy for about $2.50 in bulk," Deutsch said. Diamond was the brand name of the watch, he said.
In phone calls with Gulfbay, Deutsch said the company played back tapes that affirmed his son accepted the magazine subscriptions.
But Deutsch said it was because his son was tricked, not because he knew what he was getting.
"There was some fault and liability on his part," Deutsch said. "I think he was naive and kind of tuned out and didn't know that he would be bounded by this $1,200."
Gulfbay told Deutsch that if his son didn't pay, the company would turn the teen over to collections.
So Deutsch reached an agreement to pay the company a total of about $200 to settle the case so his son's credit would not suffer.
"I told them I was doing it under protest," Deutsch said. "I filed a complaint with Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.
"Even with the agreement, I told them I was not going to let this go," he said. "People should know about this company."
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.