St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 9, 2010 – Three Web-based businesses located in Southern Illinois have come under criticism from customers who say they are not receiving purchased products and are unable to contact the operators of the sites.
The BBB urges caution when dealing with United Net Online (unitednetonline.com), Home and Garden Surplus (homeandgardensurplus.com) and Cairo Shopping Center (cairoshoppingcenter.com).
Home and Garden Surplus and Cairo Shopping Center are Web-based retail businesses operated by Marshall VanDeusen and his wife, Jennifer. United Net Online is operated by Bryan Kizer, a pharmacy worker who rents a home in Cairo from the VanDeusens. The online businesses offer thousands of different items, including electronics, children’s toys and medieval swords.
Beginning in early December, customers have filed 25 complaints with the BBB against the three businesses, alleging non-delivery of ordered items, delivery of lesser quality items and/or difficulty contacting the VanDeusens and Kizer about their orders.
In late 2004 and early 2005, the VanDeusens were involved in a separate failed online investment project in Oklahoma that cost outside investors at least $150,000. VanDeusen said he personally lost more than $1 million on that deal.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the BBB, said the 25 complaints against the three businesses in a two-month period represent a “serious cause for concern. Many consumers already are worried about buying online. Problems like these further erode their trust in making online purchases.”
The VanDeusens operate two other websites, Product Showcase Center (productshowcasecenter.com) and Tristate Discounters (tristatediscounters.com). Until recently, the website for Product Showcase Center listed the address of Marshall VanDeusen’s foster father in Sacramento, Calif. The address for Tristate Discounters is a mobile home park where the VanDeusens once lived.
The VanDeusens told the BBB that even though Kizer is a neighbor and tenant, they have no involvement with United Net Online, which is the target of 16 of the 25 BBB complaints. Marshall VanDeusen said that he hired Kizer to work on the other websites, and Kizer used information VanDeusen supplied to contact Chinese wholesale suppliers and start United Net Online.
VanDeusen said he is working to clear up any consumer complaints. Kizer said he has been trying to deal with consumer complaints and process refunds.
“The business is pretty much at a standstill now,” Kizer said.
VanDeusen said he and his wife came to Cairo after the investment project in Seminole, Okla. failed in 2005. That project involved the online sale of shares in a trucking company called Jennifer’s Delivery Service.
Marshall VanDeusen said that when Jennifer’s Delivery Service went out of business and they were forced to sell the company’s 15 trucks, it was impossible to return money to investors. He blamed the company’s failure on the rising cost of fuel. When diesel got to $5 a gallon, “we flat went out of business,” he said. “We completely lost our butts.”
Records show that Jennifer’s Delivery Service stopped operating in early 2005, at a time when the U. S. Department of Energy shows the retail cost of diesel was between $2.20 and $2.30 a gallon. Diesel hit $3 a gallon in October 2005 and $4 a gallon in 2008. It never has reached an average price of $5.
The VanDeusens said they do not know how much investors lost because all of the company’s records were stolen in a burglary at their Seminole home. But Marshall VanDeusen estimates the loss to outside investors at about $150,000, with the biggest single loss about $10,000.
But a retiree from Edenton, N.C., told the BBB that he lost more than $38,000 in the project. “I got suckered all the way,” he said. “I know I’m dumber than a brick.” A father and son from Seminole said they lost $5,000 to the VanDeusens. “We trusted him,” the father said, referring to Marshall VanDeusen. He said the VanDeusens left town soon after the failure.
Recent complainants told the BBB that they have been unable to contact the VanDeusens or Kizer about the status of items ordered through their websites.
A man from Evansville, Wis., said he paid United Net Online $740 for a Yamaha electronic keyboard on Dec. 31 but never received the product. He tried repeatedly to reach someone with the business by phone and by email with no luck.
A man from Miami, Fla., said he paid United Net $758 for a Samsung computer on Dec. 15. He said the site had promised delivery by Christmas, but he never received it. He, too, has been unable to reach anyone with the business.
A customer from St. Louis who paid $106 to United Net on Jan. 25 for a DVD/VCR player and recorder said the company is not responding to his inquiries.
Most of the complaints concerning Home and Garden Surplus and Cairo Shopping Center involve the orders of Blu-Ray video players. In some cases, customers have been unable to contact anyone at the business. In one case, a consumer said the business substituted a lesser quality player for the one he ordered.
Marshall VanDeusen said he is working to improve communications. He said he has made it clear on his sites that certain items may be substituted if the ordered item is out of stock.
But a consumer from Spring, Tex. noted that the Cairo Shopping Center site where he ordered a Blu-Ray player states that the company could substitute an item “with equal or greater value.” The player he received, the customer said, was of significantly less value than the one he ordered.
On a social networking site, Marshall VanDeusen describes himself as “Rev. Marshall” and displays certificates from Faithful Life Ministries and Universal Ministries. VanDeusen appears to head Faithful Life Ministries. On its website, Universal Ministries describes itself as an online church that provides ministerial credentials to anyone for a donation.
The BBB offers the following tips for shoppers ordering online: