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Holiday ads on Facebook turn into holiday fail for customers

Posted at 10:39 PM, Nov 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-27 01:08:45-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Better Business Bureau has a warning as we head into Black Friday deals and the holiday season: Be careful what you purchase from social media advertisements.

The ads you see scrolling on your phone may not be what arrives at your front door. Take it from Susan Stankye.

Back in October, the Connecticut woman described coming across a beautiful sea glass miniature Christmas tree on Facebook.

"I go all out for decorating for Christmas, and they would look perfect in my bathroom which has other sea glass," Stankye told FOX 13.

Buy two for just under $40, she indicated the advertisement said, and get free shipping.

"So I ordered them, and I figured, 'Wow, what a good deal!'" she recounted.

Debbie Nuckols in Virginia figured the same thing when she set her eyes on an ad for a kid-sized dinosaur. For her, it was the perfect Christmas gift for her twin grandsons.

"It showed the little boy bouncing on it, and it interacting with the little boy like it could talk to it and it would react, you know, in certain ways," Nuckols said of what the ad video portrayed.

While there weren't any reviews that Nuckols could find of the product, she did take a look at the website and explained that it looked legitimate. She purchased the dino for $59.99.

When it arrived on her doorstep three weeks later, she described how it was apparent by the size of the package that this was not a large dino.

"I laughed at first," Nuckols remembered. "I kept saying, 'This can't be it. This can't be it.'"

Stankye said she got angry upon taking her Christmas trees out of the box.

"What the hell is this?! This is not what I ordered!" she said of her reaction.

The two women instead received items that vaguely resembled what they thought they purchased.

Nuckols got a small toy Triceratops that fit in her granddaughter's arms. Definitely not something a child could ride on.

Stankye was mailed two little, plastic, clear trees.

Considering the women paid $60 and $40, respectively, they talked about how these items could have come from a dollar store.

While neither of the women live in Utah, FOX 13 has reported on how Utahns found themselves in the same situation with pumpkins purchased before Halloween.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Nevada and Utah said they take in tons of complaints of customers duped by social media ads, especially this time of year.

"The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays," said director of communications Britta Clark.

Clark explained that the ads someone sees on a social media site like Facebook often come from overseas companies. Because of that, it can be difficult to get in touch with them and get a refund after something goes wrong with an order.

Because Facebook is considered a third party in the transaction, if the BBB receives a complaint, Clark described how they consider the issue as solely being between the company and the customer.

"There's not much you can do because they're not reputable companies with a working customer service line," Clark said.

She urged: Take your time and do your research before making a purchase from a social media ad.

"When you pull up the website, you want to make sure that it's secure. So you want to look for the 'https' in the URL," Clark said. "You want to do your research and look at other companies who are selling the same thing. You want to compare prices and reviews."

Clark also said to look at the company's policies closely, such as their refund policy and privacy policy.

If everything checks out, Clark recommended only using a credit card to pay.

"Pay with a credit card, because your bank will help you get the money back most of the time," she said.

While PayPal might help too in the event of a bad purchase, Clark said the problem with PayPal is that they look at shipping information, and shipping and tracking can be faked.

The customer can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker, which Clark indicated can prevent others from making the same mistake with the same company.

Stankye and Nuckols are each trying to dispute their charges. Stankye took it up with PayPal, while Nuckols opened a claim through her bank.

"I'm hoping that I'll get my money back from PayPal," Stankye said. "I mean, otherwise it's a little bit of an expensive lesson."

A lesson: What seems fun and festive on social media can end up as a holiday fail in your home.

"Buyer beware," Nuckols said. "I say that all the time to my family. If it sounds too good to be true, it really is."