Complaints from both countries began flooding into Canadian Better Business Bureau (BBB) headquarters Wednesday about an e-commerce site that could be found at either PS2storeusa.com or PS2storecanada.com.
Most people said they paid between $394 to $599 for the much sought-after PlayStation 2 video game console made by Sony but did not receive delivery when promised, according to Bob Whitelaw, president of the Canadian BBB.
The warning cautions consumers about Web sites that falsely advertise the availability of popular electronic games and related products. Under U.S. Federal Trade Commission rules, retailers are required to notify customers if they cannot deliver goods within a stated deadline so that customers can decide whether to cancel their orders. Last holiday season, many e-tailers were fined for violating that rule.
The BBB said in a statement that Sony told it "any commercial Web site that claims to have thousands of Sony PlayStation 2 products for sale is making a bogus claim."
Molly Smith, a Sony spokeswoman, said Friday that PS2storeusa or PS2storecanada are not authorized sellers of the PlayStation 2.
The PlayStation 2 Web sites said Friday they had 15,000 PlayStation 2 consoles for sale.
But the owner of the Web sites in question said his company has shipped PlayStation 2 consoles to all the customers who have been charged. Scott Byers told CNET News.com on Friday that all the troubles are the result of mistaken identity. He said another company, also called PS2storecanada.com, was in business long before Buyers started his company last month, and its operators are the ones that ran off with their customers' money. That company closed its Web site, Byers said, but its former customers have mixed up that company with his.
"We are a new company getting together slowly," said Byers, who is from New Brunswick, Canada. "If I was a fraud, would I be trying to clear my name? I'd be long gone."
However, business associates said their trouble is with Byers. For example, Jim Puff, the owner of the call-in center taking the PlayStation 2 orders, said Byers is weeks behind on paying him $10,000 for his services. Byers said Friday that he paid Puff, but Puff said he decided to shut down the phone bank after the complaints.
Credit card company Visa International also cut Byers' company off after being contacted by the BBB and customers, according to Cheryl Heinonen, director of corporation relations at Visa International.
At PlayStation 2 message boards, hundreds of customers were wondering whether they would ever get their products. Some were convinced it was a scam, while others held out hope that they would be getting their products later.
"I hope they ship it before Christmas," one person wrote on a message board. "Better be legit, or I'm going to sue them."
A manager at the Web sites' call center in Sacramento, Calif., told CNET News.com on Thursday that they had the PlayStation 2 units in stock, but that deliveries were delayed because of a problem at UPS. The man refused to give his full name and title.
Demand for the elusive PlayStation 2 console has clogged the Web sites of several online stores. Several sites, including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and BlueLight.com, have stalled or shut down because of the demand.
The BBB said Visa Canada and MasterCard Canada are alerting their U.S. counterparts about the potential for credit card fraud regarding PS2storeusa and PS2storecanada.
Whitelaw said one of the most troubling aspects was that hundreds of people said they faxed PS2storeusa or PS2storecanada photocopies of the fronts and backs of their credit cards.
"There is valuable information on the cards," Whitelaw said. "By turning it over, we've been told by the credit card companies that the potential exists for personal identity theft...The credit card companies both said that this is very bad."