St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 22, 2010 – A laid off warehouse worker from Central Missouri said he was searching for the perfect birthday gift for his young son when he answered a Craigslist ad for an outdoor playhouse last month.
What he got instead was a hard lesson in Internet scams.
“I fell for it,” said the man, from the town of St. Thomas, Mo., in Cole County. He said he sent $600 to what now appears to have been a phony Internet business.
Soon after he sent the money to myonlinedepot.net, the business stopped communicating and took down its website. He never received the playhouse.
Within days, consumers responding to the same St. Louis Craigslist ad were referred to a new company – Affordable Depot at www.affordabledepot.com. That site listed an address for its storage location at 1900 East Milwaukee St. in Janesville, Wis. The manager of a U-Haul business at that address said there is no company by that name at that address. A phone call to the number listed for Affordable Depot was not returned.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be extremely cautious when buying from unfamiliar online companies, especially when the businesses require cash or other non-traceable money transfers.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the BBB, said that while most online companies practice strong business ethics, the Internet also is fraught with potential mine fields.
“This is one more example of what can happen when a consumer puts his trust in a company he knows little or nothing about," Corey said. "Anyone can create a professional looking website; it doesn’t mean he won’t steal your money and run.”
The father said he and his girlfriend came across the ad while searching the St. Louis Craigslist site for a playset for his son’s upcoming third birthday.
The posting advertised a “new in box Sunray Premium Playhouse” for $600, well under the usual retail price. The ad described the location of the playset as St. Louis and directed them to the myonlinedepot.net site to order. The father said the website looked “very professional.”
He said the company instructed them to purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak for the amount of the purchase and then transfer the payment via the Internet to the prospective seller. MoneyPaks can be purchased in stores throughout the U. S. and can be used to transfer money without a bank account.
The father said he used a portion of his annual tax refund to buy the playset. Myonlinedepot.net even promised free “white gloves delivery” with the purchase, he said. He said he believed the playset was somewhere in the St. Louis area because it was advertised on a St. Louis Craigslist site. He even considered going to St. Louis to pick it up.
When he discovered he had been taken, he posted a “buyer beware” ad on the same Craigslist site. “DO NOT FALL FOR THIS SCAM,” he said.
An online search shows identical playhouses advertised for $600 on Craigslist sites in Little Rock, Ark.; Hartford, Ct.; Denver, Col.; Fresno, Calif. and several other cities. Several consumers on online complaint boards say too that they did not receive items purchased from myonlinedepot.net.
Scams on online classified sites is an ongoing concern. The problem has prompted Craigslist to place a warning on its sites on how to avoid fraud.
The BBB offers these tips for avoiding being taken in by Internet thieves: