THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- 2008: Scams, shoes, and an earnest farewell

Every time I turned around this past year, I seemed to meet another person who was either the actual or intended victim of an online scam.

In April, I wrote about Hook photographer Will Walker who almost fell victim to a classic email scam ["Snappy scam: Photographer target of email bilking," April 3, 2008]. A Rev. Donko wrote Walker from Africa to arrange for a lucrative photography assignment here in Charlottesville. Rev. Donko even sent Walker a check for the fee– in fact, a check $3,900 in excess of the agreed-upon fee, in advance. 

If Walker could only send a portion of the overage back to the good Reverend in cash...

Walker smelled a rat and, and in doing so, saved himself some money. 

At that time, however, I wrote that scams appeared to be increasing. "Forewarned is forearmed," I wrote.

Still, a little over a month later, I covered he story of Danielle Miller, who got taken for $3,600 in another classic online scam. ["Passed bucks: Scam leaves teen deep in the hole," May 22, 2008] The high school senior, worried about her future after graduation, responded to a spam email that promised an easy job cashing checks for a company located outside the United States. The company had a website and looked legit.

Unfortunately, it wasn't, and Danielle, trying to do a good job, sent the scammer her own cash through the mail before the bogus checks she cashed for her "employer" cleared her account.

Finally, in December, I wrote about Carley Green, who lost $1,700 in the Advance Loan Fee Fraud ["$1,700 lost: Online 'loan' threatens Virginia's good name," Dec. 4, 2008]. In dire need of a loan to help pay medical bills, the St. Joseph, Missouri resident sent a cash gram to Canada in the belief that she was placing a security deposit for a $12,500 loan from a Charlottesville lender, which is how she wound up getting in touch with the Hook.

In the tough economic times ahead, unfortunately, as circumstances leave more people in dire economic situations, these scams look likely to increase. I applaud these three individuals for coming forward, despite their personal embarrassment at being conned (or in Will's case, almost conned) in the hopes that they can help others avoid the same fate.

The year also saw a wide variety of customer issues involving many local businesses– furniture stores, dry cleaners, automobile repair shops and car dealers, to name a few, not to mention Charlottesville's preoccupation with scarce parking and the inevitable vehicle towing that ensues.

Of this variety, my favorite story of 2008, by far, was that of Charles Marsh and his unhappy experience with a pair of expensive shoes he purchased from venerable Corner retailer, Eljo's  ["What a drag: Charles Marsh and case of the shoes," May 29, 2008].

I spent quite a lot of time trying to unravel just who was to blame, and who should fix, the $275 pair of shoes Marsh claimed had worn out after only two wearings. By the time the dispute landed on my desk, the battle between Marsh and Eljo's owner Trent Thurston, had grown bitter, involving personal confrontations, nasty emails, and even a telephone conversation between Marsh and Thurston's mother.

Ultimately, Thurston offered to repair the shoes at his expense.

What moved this story from a run-of-the-mill consumer-retailer disagreement to my favorite was Marsh's reaction to the story. 

Marsh was not satisfied with Thurston's offer to repair the shoes, which I naively thought was an acceptable outcome for all concerned. Unhappy that my story gave Thurston an opportunity to paint him as an unreasonable customer (hey, I write, you decide),  Marsh said this column should be called "Tough on the Customer," and he concluded, "In the end, the Hook got an interesting article, Eljos keeps my $270, and I'm stuck with a bum pair of shoes."

Uh, make that two articles. (I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether either was interesting).


But Mr. Marsh need not worry further, as this shall be my final Tough Customer column. I'm not moving on to anything bigger or better, I'm just moving on.

I am deeply appreciative to all the people over the past year and a half, both consumers and businesses alike, who shared their stories with me and with the Charlottesville community over the past two years.



And I'm glad to see you go--you were not very interesting.

Good luck to you. I'm sure mediocrity will keep you from being totally lonely.

Scott, are we in a bad mood today? Did Santa leave coal in your stocking?

I found most of his reports pretty interesting.

Scott - I'm with SOTLR on this one. I found Mr. Zimmerman's columns to be fair to all parties involved and well-researched. I will miss his contributions to The Hook.