Yuzoo.net generated a shopping frenzy by announcing an "Exclusive Grand $100 Liquidation Sale" with enormous bargains on an array of products including Pentium computers, lightweight laptops and flat-panel monitors.
However, some customers have complained that they never received their purchases, raising concerns about the "sale."
This story may have a happy ending of sorts, however. The billing processor that Yuzoo contracted with decided to reverse all the credit card charges after a "manager of fraud" determined that there was unusual activity and that the Yuzoo site should be investigated, says Edward Cherry, the privacy officer at Internet Billing Co. This means many of Yuzoo's clientele may get their money back, without the need to file complaints with their credit card issuers.
Cherry said they refunded 118 orders totaling more than $27,000. He said the fraud manager worked with the company's compliance department and contacted random customers before deciding to reverse the charges. They contacted Yuzoo to notify them, and the next day all the telephone numbers they had for Yuzoo were disconnected, he said.
The site is still operating, however, with a notice that although the company is sold out from the Memorial Day sale, they plan a "new inventory update" by June 17.
The Orangeburg Department of Public Safety has begun an investigation, according to Lt. Dennis Romanstine, who said a police officer has visited a mailbox service that the Yuzoo site posted as a contact address.
Stephen Cohen, staff attorney for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, said the FTC had not yet received any consumer complaints. But he said of Yuzoo's product line, "If they never had anything, it's a complete fraud."
Although it's not certain whether Yuzoo had products to sell or did anything to intentionally deceive consumers, the "sale" is a textbook example of what to look out for in Internet commerce:
Don't believe everything you read. A winning tactic often used to attract victims is the "satisfied customer" testimonial. In Yuzoo's case, potential buyers received e-mails from a "Bill Williams" through an e-mail forum called Business World List.
One message, complete with misspellings, read: "I just got two brand new pentium IV computers for $100 each from this company. They are running there summer grand liquidation for two weeks. No other computer company out there is as good as this company. Dell has nothing on this offer. At $100 on everything there's nothing like it anywhere!"
Whoever Bill Williams is, e-mail to his Yahoo.com address is returned as "over quota," indicating that he may have never opened this particular in-box.
Good looks are no guarantee. The Yuzoo Web site, which was created just days before the "sale," according to Web site registry Whois.com, is fairly professional in appearance. But buyers ignored the fact that its pages were filled with spelling errors and dubious claims.
The home page, for example, projected an air of prestige by announcing that Yuzoo "is set to acquire Worldnet Computers Inc. for $4.5 million in cash stock." Aside from the fact that there's no such thing as cash stock, Worldnet grosses $20 million annually and could hardly be acquired for $4.5 million. Worldnet Marketing Director Scott Wilson confirms that the claim is "absolutely false."
If they're hard to find now, they'll be even harder to find later. Network Solutions' registry listing for Yuzoo.net shows a phone number that connects to an unrelated person, and a street address in Orangeburg, S.C., that the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office doesn't have any record of.
Although Yuzoo's Web site lists two corporate officers, phone calls to people in the Orangeburg area with similar names failed to locate anyone who acknowledged being connected with the site.
Meanwhile, no company named Yuzoo is listed with the South Carolina Department of Corporations, the Orangeburg County Records Office, or the Central South Carolina Better Business Bureau.
The refunds may solve most customers' immediate concerns. But the next time they spot an unbelievable bargain, I hope they'll remember Yuzoo.
CNET News.com staff writer Troy Wolverton contributed to this report.
Reader Ed DeMello will receive a free copy of "Windows Me Secrets" for sending us a tip we printed.
Brian Livingston's Wired Watchdog column appears at CNET News.com every Friday. Do you know of a problem affecting consumers? Send info to tips@BrianLivingston.com. He'll send you a book of high-tech secrets free if you're the first to submit a tip he prints.