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PROCESS WAS HAZY, BUT REFUND ARRIVED

Q: I ordered hair products from Sheldeez Salon in Virginia in December 2006. I never received them.

I called numerous times, spoke to several people, and also requested a refund in writing, but I can't seem to get any satisfaction from this company. Apparently the products were unavailable, so I just want a refund for $26.78.

I can usually handle issues like this on my own, but in this case I think I've been ripped off.

Sharon Roys

A: Sheldeez Hair Products and Salons Inc. has an unsatisfactory rating from the Better Business Bureau, the result of a pattern of unanswered complaints. I'm glad to report that the company did respond to Action.

An e-mail simply signed "Sheldeez" explained that you had dealt with a salon supervisor who is no longer with the company. "I am not sure why he did not issue Ms. Roys a refund at the time she requested it," Sheldeez said. "We had no knowledge of the situation, since the former supervisor had spoken to her and did not tell any employee that she was requesting a refund."

Sheldeez also said a credit had been issued to the charge card you used for the transaction. But how did that occur when the supervisor allegedly ignored your request? You sent a letter Feb. 7 in which you informed Sheldeez that account was closed, so why would it issue a credit and, if it did, why wasn't it informed the account was no longer active?

Despite all that confusion, you received your refund March 28.

A kind of theft

Q: I'm sending you copies of invoices and address labels from numerous magazines and book club memberships that have been ordered in my name. One of the memberships was issued in my name with a vulgarity added for good measure. What kind of a company issues a mailing label with that language? We even received a subscription in my husband's name, but he just tore the invoice up. I have not ordered any of these items, and I'm being inundated with mail.

I'm sure this is being done by someone I know, but I would need to obtain the original order forms and postmarks to be sure. Can I initiate criminal charges for harassment? I've been told this is considered a federal offense since the fraud is being perpetrated through the Postal Service. Is this correct?

S.G.

A: I spoke with Linda Walker, public information officer and U.S. postal inspector at the Tampa field office. Your situation is not classic mail fraud, she said, but it is a kind of identity theft. She has referred your case to the external crimes unit, which will contact the businesses involved. An investigation may take things like the original order forms into evidence to dust for fingerprints or analyze handwriting. If the orders were made by phone, records may be examined to see where the incoming calls originated. As a federal law enforcement agency, postal inspectors may also work with local law enforcement on charges of harassment, if applicable.

Walker explained that customers can go to any local post office and ask for complaint forms dealing with identity theft or mail fraud. Ask a representative which form applies to your situation. Customers can also call the Tampa field office at (813) 281-5200 to request a form.

Even though you didn't originate the orders, you can't ignore them without your credit being affected. Call the customer service department connected to each bill, and explain what has happened. Ask that the accounts be closed and any subscriptions canceled. Follow up in writing. If you simply tear up the invoices, eventually the accounts will go into collections.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

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