Consumerist Investigates: Scam?

If it walks and talks like a duck, you probably need to lay off the acid. Likewise, Rikomatic’s experience with quacks just like a fly-by-night scam.

Last December, Rik ordered gift certificates from TheGiftAssistant for Christmas. On the 22nd, a rep called to say they wouldn’t arrive in time, would he like cancel. Through his teeth, Rik agreed. He was as surprised to find himself still charged on his credit card as his familial kiddies were to find socks and semi-used cough drops in their stockings.

Many calls later proved futile. The BBB said the company was unresponsive, and also had 80 other unresolved complaints on file.

Rik is disputing the charges with the credit card but who are these “The Gift Assistant” douches?

We did some cursory digging…

UPDATE: The real behind the scenes story, here.

The website lists as contact info:

The Gift Assistant
1776 Mentor Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45212
Phone: 877.443.8770

We called that number. A machine picked up and apologized for not being able to take our call as “”normal business hours are Monday through Friday, 8-5pm.” We then couldn’t leave a message as the mailbox was full.

Googlemaps and Google show that address to be some sort of downtown business center.

WHOIS on the site reveals:

Candelaresi, Tom
4012 Benjamin Dr
Cincinnati, OH 45245 US
Phone: 513-752-7644
Fax: 513-752-7729

The phone was busy and the fax kept ringing. Googlemaps reveals that to be a residence.

Interesting too is that when we looked at the site’s source code, these fellows were listed as its authors, “Aaron Forgue, PJ…” – who seemed to have met in QBASIC classes at Miami U. in Oxford.

Fine work, fellas. We’ll be sure to recommend you for our next Web 2.0 project.

UPDATE: We spoke with Aaron Forgue. He and PJ did work on the site, hard work but were not responsible for defrauding consumers. He also doesn’t know QBASIC. Read more here.

And then finally, TheGiftAssistant’s BBB listing paints a gory picture of typical online sleazbags.

We’re not sure what anyone can do with all this info, unless you’re an aggrieved customer out for blood the hard way, but one things for certain: if you randomly land on some ecommerce site you’ve never heard of, think twice about plunking down the credit card.

All of this would have of course been averted if Rik opted for simple homemade crafts as Christmas presents instead of going the easy gift certificate route.

Rik’s original letter:

    “Don’t shop at the Gift Assistant .

    Last Christmas, I decided, instead of being the usual Scrooge that I am, it would be a good idea to get all the kiddies in my family Barnes and Nobles gift certificates. That way, the little whippersnappers would have a fighting chance to get a little learnin’ in their empty lil heads.

    Somehow I found my way to the Gift Assistant website. On December 10, I purchased 13 ten-dollar gift certificates from them, which I was told would take about a week for delivery. On December 22, I got a nicely worded email from an employee of the Gift Assistant telling me that the certificates would not arrive in time for Christmas, and would I like to cancel my order. I thanked her for the information and agreed that cancelling was probably the best idea.

    The matter should have ended there. Instead, in my December credit card statement I found that the Gift Assistant had not cancelled my transaction, and that I was out $130. And they never sent me the gift certificates. Grrrr.

    Many, many emails and phone calls later, I became fed up with their empty promises of refunding me the money and I reported them to the Better Business Bureau in February. It was my first BBB complaint, and it felt good just filing it. I got a few responses from them that they were on the case over the past months.

    I recently got an email from BBB telling me that the Gift Assistant was “non-responsive” and that there was nothing further they could do. They suggested I contact my Attorney General or the Internet Fraud Unit. The BBB now lists the Gift Assistant as having an “unsatisfactory record with the Bureau” due to “unanswered complaints and a pattern of complaints concerning delivery issues.” They have over 80 complaints about the company on file, the large majority unresolved.

    It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one taken. Still, it galls.

    And next Christmas, all the kids are getting socks.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. John Stracke says:

    (a) Why would you order Barnes & Noble gift cards from anybody other than Barnes & Noble?

    (b) Cancel The Charge!

  2. Jasephoto says:

    Just so that everything comes around in a big circle of the almighty Consumerist….

    That address on Mentor is in Norwood, Ohio. Right down the street from the former Headquarters of … yep .. you guessed it. Convergys.

    A secret plot by the ‘stache? I think so. ;)

  3. rikomatic says:

    Thanks for the snooping, Ben. I do also have a case pending with my credit card company.

    The other annoying part of the deal was that I was referred to the Gift Assistant by Citibank, through their “Thank You” merchant network. So I assumed I wasn’t going to get screwed, and I would get a few extra reward points on my credit card. That’s what I get for trusting my bank.

  4. homerjay says:

    Oh yeah, Citibank is WAY trustworthy. So is Enron and Exxon/Mobil.

  5. LintMan says:

    Presuming that Citibank isn’t in on the scam, they might want to know that they’re referring customers to a site that is defrauding them. If they stop their recommendation, it might save some poor slob from getting burned the same way. Maybe you can even finagle a few extra reward points out of them by complaining.

  6. AndyAndy719 says:

    I love hunting people down.

    It should be noted that Mister Candelaresi’s information on his domain is quite incorrect and outdated.

    (The telphone numbers dont belong to him either – they belong to someone else)

    Unless they’ve gone underground (they, meaning his wife + son), I’d check out the Apple Lane Apartments. 1825 Sutton Ave. Apt #7. Write a letter, ask for a refund – I’m almost 95% sure he’ll get it.

    Course that’s in Cincinnati, OH, 45212.

    Merry Christmas Tom (Thomas, middle initial A).


  7. Jesse in Japan says:

    Has it really become so difficult to buy gift certificates that people feel the need to purchase through a third party like that?