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Think twice before going online to order back-to-school masks



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In a time where people are financially unstable, it’s no surprise that the scammers are out in full force.

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The face mask has turned into what some call a “nec-cessory” — a necessary fashion accessory. It’s vamping into a clothing category that allows you to express your political voice or highlight hobbies, much like a T-shirt or a baseball cap.

But consumers who shop online for these “nec-cessories” are being warned to look beyond the clever patterns. Some consumers clearly aren’t happy with their shopping experiences. 

The Hyperfavor site, for example, shows some neat designs — a mask with the teacher’s name and a row of crayons on the bottom border, a mask with the words “Being Black is Not a Crime,” or a colorful concoction that proclaims “Just a Girl Who Loves Coffee.”

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The starting point for the masks is $13.95. Sounds about right. Why opt for a medical blue hue when you can really jazz things up to offer some protection during the pandemic? 

Yet consumer complaints about Hyperfavor have skyrocketed, according to the Better Business Bureau, as some people say they’re been waiting endlessly for their protective face coverings or they allege they never received what they ordered. Some only received partial orders, not all of what they wanted. 

The Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers that it has received 61 complaints and 56 negative customer reviews for online retailer Hyperfavor.

And you might imagine that some ordered a few items, as the site promises free shipping on orders that are more than $75. Maybe throw in a T-shirt for $24.95 that says: “Sorry I’m late, I saw a corgi.”

“With people back at work and now starting to go back to school, face masks are still a hot commodity, and scammers know that,” said Melanie Duquesnel, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

A Michigan consumer, according to the BBB, reported being charged after placing an order and receiving a tracking number. But no masks. When the customer contacted Hyperfavor, they were told the order would be “shipped in a few days”.

Then, when the consumer reached out to the U.S. Postal Service, the customer was told the postal service did not have that tracking number in their system.

The company lists an address in Virginia, but its phone number pops up as being from Cheyenne, Wyoming. 

Shantiq Hill, 38, who lives in Warren, Michigan, said she spent about $40 ordering a few masks in mid-April but became frustrated when she didn’t get the masks in the seven to 10 days promised. Worse yet, she couldn’t reach anyone at the company.

One of the masks in the group featured the words “Lupus Warrior,” which Hill ordered as a tribute to a cousin who died in April at age 42.

Hill, who works as a nursing assistant at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit, finally gained some ground by messaging the company on Facebook and threatening to turn them into the Better Business Bureau. She also filed a complaint with the BBB.

“I was just trying everything because they were not that responsive to me,” Hill said. 

Hill eventually did get the masks but says potential customers need to be aware the company was difficult to reach and seemed unwilling for weeks to help her. 

She isn’t a big fan of the masks, even though she did agree to share a picture of herself and one of the masks.

“I haven’t worn any of the masks,” she said in late August. “For the price, I don’t know.”

I called the phone number listed on the company’s website. A man did answer but he said he was working from home and could not give me a number to call to reach a company executive. He suggested I email the address listed on the website. 

I sent an email and a message via Facebook Aug. 27. The Facebook response seemed to be a standard template: 

“Thank you for letting us know about this and we are so sorry for what you have seen on the page. We are working on earning our customers’ trust. But we all know we can’t make everyone happy in some cases; we have our own policy and we always remind customers before they place orders. We reported this to our managers and we will solve this soon. Once again, thank you so much.” 

Later, I received an email signed by Hyperfavor Support Team noting that the company has “outsourced some of the facilities in Vietnam in order to ensure the continuity of the production process so that the shipping time might take longer than usual due to the geographical distance and the widespread pandemic.” 

As for partial orders, the email said various products can be shipped out from different facilities at different times.

The email acknowledged that some customers don’t realize this, “so they thought that we are a scammer and leave some negative reviews while waiting for their orders.” 

“We can guarantee that our customers will receive what they order from our company,” the email said. “We are trying our best to improve our service, especially the shipping time to bring a better experience to customers because we acknowledge how important the face masks are now.” 

Ordering online might be more attractive as people try to shelter in place to combat COVID-19. But consumer watchdogs are hearing of a variety of problems. 

Problems shopping online

Nationwide, complaints about problems shopping online rank No. 1, according to a report focusing on COVID-19 and stimulus package issues compiled by the Federal Trade Commission. 

Consumers filed 27,106 complaints relating to online shopping through Aug. 26, triggering more than $16 million in losses, according to the FTC report. 

The FTC has been collecting data about COVID-19-related scams and overall has received more than 180,000 COVID-19-related reports about fraud, identity theft, Do Not Call, and other consumer protection problems. 

In general, the FTC stated, online shopping scams are aiming to “trick people into ordering products like masks, hand sanitizer, and other high-demand items that never arrive.”

The FTC noted that consumers also are reporting phony text messages related to bogus offers to earn income, collect money from phony economic relief programs, and donate to fake charities. Con artists continue to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and others, too. 

Consumers can file complaints at ftc.gov/complaint. A special link on top of that page allows you to highlight consumer complaints related to the coronavirus. Or call the FTC’s consumer response center 877-382-4357. 

The FTC recommends:

  • Before you order, check out the company or product online first. Search for potential scams or complaints.
  • Pay by credit card so you can dispute the billing error, report it to your credit card company and get your money back if something goes wrong.
  • Never hand over money or give out your personal information in response to calls, emails or texts that say they’re from the government. 

We’ve got to protect our pocketbooks now too, as we try to protect ourselves from the virus. 

Contact Susan Tompor: stompor@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @tompor. To subscribe, please go to freep.com/specialoffer. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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