I Got Scammed Buying Clorox Wipes: Part II

Does this look like a cannister of disinfectant wipes to you?

Some time ago I paid an internet scammer more than a hundred bucks for disinfectant products that never shipped. In such instances of fraud, credit card companies typically take the side of the customer and refund the money. This case worked out differently — the scammer got the credit card company to reverse the refund and clawed back my money. In this second part of what I never intended to be a multi-part series, I will go into how this happened, how the credit card company responded, and the ultimate resolution (to date).

The story so far: Like many other people I’ve been having trouble buying cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes and disinfectant spray. So I was happy to find a Facebook ad purporting to be an official Clorox site and placed two orders for wipes. Several red flags began waving including the abrupt disappearance of the fake Clorox site from the internet. Rather than let the scammer game the PayPal system, subjecting myself to prolonged agony, I instead got a refund from Mark’s Bank, the credit card company associated with my PayPal account. (I have changed its name to protect my privacy.) The company acted quickly, and there the story ended — or so I thought. You can find the rest of the details in Part I of this series.

I underestimated the ingenuity and work ethic of the scammer. A few weeks after receiving my refund, I got a message from Mark’s Bank saying that my refund for $57.57 for the first of the two orders had been un-refunded. The reason given: “Confirmation showing no return per policy was received.” To date the refund for the second purchase, for $60.77, still stands.

Socks, Not Wipes

How did the scammer get away with this? Rather ingeniously, I must say. The crook mailed me two tiny envelopes of baby socks, one for each of the two orders (second one reproduced above). This generated tracking information showing that two packages were indeed shipped from the scammer in China to me in New York. The catch, of course, was that I had not ordered baby socks — I had ordered disinfectant wipes.

But this ploy enabled the scammer to convince Mark’s Bank that I had been shipped what I ordered and had failed to return it “per policy.” If the scammer ever promulgated a return policy I am unable to find any trace of it now. The one “order confirmation” I received — for only one of the two orders — included no return policy. If there was one on the fake website, there is no way of checking it now, since the website vanished within days after it took my money.

After I published Part I of this series, several people on both Medium and a Facebook site devoted to PayPal problems revealed that they too had been shipped baby socks in lieu of Clorox cleaning products. One wrote: “You are not the only one [they] did it to. My pair was black instead of gray. I just sent info to PayPal. But after reading your story, I think I will call my credit card company now.”

Another reader wrote: “Me too. I received my black socks today. I thought something was off when I didn’t receive an order confirmation and then read negative comments. I notified Facebook and they took down the ad. Notified credit card company and they reversed the charge.” Yet another wrote, perhaps definitively: “Me too. I got my socks yesterday. People suck!”

Documentation Hell

I was left to grapple with the credit card company’s understandable demands for documentation, such as “your response to the documentation sent in by the merchant.” Since I never received the documentation the “merchant” sent Mark’s Bank up to when I responded, this was a toughie, but I sent my Medium story and other documents. Also demanded was “a copy of your sales invoice or purchase agreement.” I sent the emailed order confirmation for the first purchase. (The scammer didn’t bother sending one for the second purchase.)

Also requested as “proof of the cancellation or return.” But there was nothing to cancel but a scam, and only baby socks to return. Mark’s Bank also wanted “the cancellation/return policy of the merchant, if available, and whether you were advised of the policy at the time of the sale.” But there was no such policy in the order confirmation, and since the original website has vanished, there is no way to check it online. The sole arbiter and provider of documentation regarding the return policy is the scammer.

However I did my best to respond to Mark’s Bank’s request for documentation — sending a three-page letter, a PDF of the story I wrote for Medium, a PDF of Mark’s Bank’s message about the un-refund, a picture of the socks and the envelope they came in, a screen shot of sock-related Medium reader comments, and a screen shot of the “order confirmation.”

A week or so afterward I finally received copies of the “order confirmation” and the “chargeback response form” that the scammer sent Mark’s Bank, and that Mark’s Bank mailed me. The “order confirmation” I had seen before — the scammer had emailed it to me. The “chargeback response form” was new to me. The printout I was sent is reproduced below, scanned at 300 dots per inch. Can you read it? Neither can I. It appears to have gone through the world’s worst fax machine before Mark’s Bank forwarded it via USPS. On the basis of this illegible document, someone in the Transaction Support Center decided to give my money back to the scammer.

Illegible chargeback response form sent by scammer to credit card company

While preparing documents for this story, I discovered something I hadn’t previously noticed. I had thought the scammer had not included any invoices with the baby-socks shipments. But when I flipped over the envelopes, there they were, stickered on the other side — the elusive invoices. Note the absence of a return policy. Also note that the declared value is US$10 for each package, a ridiculous fraction of the $57.57 and $60.77 I paid for the Clorox disinfectant wipes that never materialized. I guess the scammer was trying to save a few pennies on the insurance cost. Finally, just for laughs, note the size of the packaging. Can you imagine a few bulky cannisters of Clorox wipes fitting into these six- by six-inch envelopes?

The baby socks came in these envelopes — a tight fit for cannisters of disinfectant wipes

A week after I uploaded my letter and documents, Mark’s Bank sent a message headed “immediate chargeback, permanent credit.” It re-credited $57.57 to my account. To date the chargeback of the other $60.77 remains unchallenged. I hope it stays that way, but if I have learned anything in this affair, it’s to expect the unexpected.

The Frauds Continue

In the meantime, the scammer has continued lobbing fraud bombs onto Facebook (and I have continued reporting them to FB as such). Below is a recent sample. It appears the scammer has moved on from ripping off consumers in the name of Clorox to ripping off consumers in the name of Lysol with several new Facebook ads, a sample of which is below. It promises “100% Consumer Satisfaction” — you betcha!:

Screenshot of a more recent Facebook scam ad

The Facebook ad leads, predictably, to yet another website. This one “Cooperates with PayPal.” That has got to be the understatement of the 21st century:

Screenshot of a more recent scam website

Stonewalling a Loyal Customer

Lest you think I’m an unhappy customer, let me say that I’m a loyal and enthusiastic user of both Mark’s Bank and Facebook.

Mark’s Bank has done a good job serving me as a consumer. I route as many purchases through its credit cards as possible, whether online or on the street. The last time my companion and I traveled to Europe, our flights to London were paid for almost entirely by Mark’s Bank points. The company’s customer service people are fairly easy to get on the phone — unlike, say, PayPal’s — and despite getting a fairly rattled and belligerent version of me, they have done their best to deliver justice to an outraged consumer. Customer service people are among the unsung heroes of our economy.

Facebook has also served me with what is, after all, a free service. It gives me a way to stay in touch with people from every chapter of my life — a boon to someone as phone-averse as I am — and provides many hours per week of free information and entertainment. I see major news stories on Facebook before I see them on news websites and television news. Facebook’s targeted ads frequently offer what turn out to be good ideas, including ticket purchases for everything from cute face masks to memorable nights at Carnegie Hall. Facebook is a part of my life. But it could do a much better job of protecting me.

I have not written this story to attack corporations and I don’t care how big or profitable they are. I have written it to shine a light on a situation in which consumers are at the mercy of international crime rings who are not held accountable by the countries in which they operate — in this case, China — nor by local police, state consumer protection agencies, or the federal government. (The New York State Division of Consumer Protection and the Federal Trade Commission did not respond to requests for comment. Nor, for that matter, did Mark’s Bank or Facebook.)

So when someone mails you an envelope of baby socks in lieu of Clorox disinfectant wipes, who do you turn to? In this case my final line of defense was the credit card company — but it took days of writing and assembling documents to get my money back from this well-organized, persistent, and shameless gang of crooks.

And so the story ends.

Or does it?

Read Part I of this series.

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Author of The Friendly Audio Guide and the annually updated Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).

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Mark Fleischmann

Mark Fleischmann

Author of The Friendly Audio Guide and the annually updated Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).

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