Posted on September 27, 2011 at 9:00 PM
Wednesday, Sep 28 at 8:22 AM
Gabriela Shepherd has plenty to sell -- rosaries, crosses, biblical images and baptismal gifts -- she just needed a way to sell it.
“I have the products. All I needed was the website,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd received an invitation to a free website-building seminar earlier this year, and decided to check it out.
‘“No commitments; just come and see. You don’t have to sign for nothing, we're not selling anything. Just come and see,’” was the pitch, Shepherd said.
According to its website, StoresOnline promises to help people succeed in launching and managing online businesses. It says it will provide the tools so the site-owner can make money.
“We teach people the core concepts behind success, taking their ideas into a website and turning that idea into a money-making venture,” a representative of StoresOnline said in an online video.
At the seminar, StoresOnline offered to help Shepherd build two websites for $5,998. She felt it was too expensive and wanted to leave.
“He was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait, don't leave. Let me talk to you, let me talk to you,’” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said the sales rep told her if she put down $300, the rest could be paid after her site was up and running. She signed the contract and paid the deposit.
“’If you don't make money, we don’t take money.’ And that's what they kept saying throughout the whole thing,” Shepherd said.
But six months later, Shepherd says that didn't happen. She still doesn't have a website, though every month since April she's been charged $290. In all, she's been charged more than $1,700.
“They promised so much, and nothing, nothing was provided,” Shepherd said.
This isn't the first time Erin Dufner with the Central Texas Better Business Bureau has heard about StoresOnline. In the last three years, consumers across the country have filed more than 750 complaints.
“BBB is concerned about the nature of these complaints,” Dufner said. “A lot of consumers are complaining that they want refunds because the company has not setup the website, however because it's beyond the cancellation period, the company does have some issues with giving the consumers full refunds.”
Dufner says attorneys general from several states, including Texas, have filed suit against the company on behalf of unhappy customers, and anyone considering signing up with StoresOnline or similar companies should proceed with caution.
“A legitimate offer will be valid today as well as tomorrow, so it is important for you to be making the decision, not for someone else to be making the decision for you,” Dufner said.
“Sometimes we messed up, and we didn't provide what we should have done,” said Jeff Korn, attorney for StoresOnline.
Korn admits his company has had its fair share of complaints.
“If you look at the 750 number in the context of the fact that we saw well-over a million people in that time period, it's a very small percentage of complaints," Korn said. "I think most companies would be proud of a percentage that high."
When there are complaints, Korn says StoresOnline works hard to fix them. It’s resolved nearly all of its BBB complaints.
“Let me make it clear -- one complaint is one complaint too many, and any of those complaints that were valid, and we didn't do what we were supposed to do, we fixed. We always fix our mistakes,” Korn said.
As for Shepherd's frustration with paying for a website that’s never been launched, Korn says customers should only go by what's written in the contract.
“She may have walked away with that impression, but that would have been inaccurate, and that would have been contrary to everything she signed,” Korn said.
Shepherd wishes she would have never signed up with StoresOnline, and she hopes others will learn from her mistake.
“They make people believe they're really going to help you, and actually, they're not,” Shepherd said.
Once KVUE Defenders brought Shepherd's case to the company's attention, it offered three months of personalized website training for Shepherd to help her finally launch her site.
To see the BBB’s review of StoresOnline, click here
To read about the Texas Attorney General’s case against StoresOnline, click here
The Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule” allows a consumer to receive a refund if they bought an item in a home or location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. To learn more about that, click here
You can follow investigative reporter Keli Rabon on her Facebook page here.