Consumer Ally reader Ellis Koufodontis, a construction manager from Margate, Fla., learned that lesson the hard way, and is out more than $800 thanks to a shady Chinese site based in Beijing called Electalk.com.Back in October, Koufodontis, who works as a DJ on the side, was shopping for audio equipment online. He happened to come across Electalk.com, which describes itself thusly on its "about us" page: "We are one online B2B wholesale electronics store based in China." Before long, he found a great deal on a Pioneer mixer and two CD players, which came to $870.
Although the price was right, the method of payment wasn't. While Electalk.com plasters logos for Visa, MasterCard, American Express and PayPal across the bottom of its site, when Koufodontis attempted to pay with a credit card, he was told they only accept wire transfers, from either Western Union or MoneyGram.
"I didn't feel comfortable at first," Koufodontis told Consumer Ally. But after chatting with a representative online, he added, "They assured me they are a reputable company."
Koufodontis set aside his misgivings and wired Electalk.com $870 via MoneyGram, which, in hindsight, he acknowledged as "my stupid mistake." A few days later, he received an e-mail from Electalk.com informing him his order was being held up by Chinese customs.
"Once they received my money, I got an email saying there was a problem with my order," Koufodontis recounted. "They wanted another $400 from me to clear customs. I refused, and
demanded my money back and they said they couldn't do that until they got their items back from customs."
Koufodontis began bombarding Electalk.com with emails and calls, and received only excuses for his troubles. He even contacted customs, who said they had no record of his order. "This went on for weeks," he said. "They kept saying 'we'll send you your money.'"
But, of course, they never did.
Eventually, Electalk.com began blocking his emails and hanging up on him whenever he called to inquire about his $870. "I was chatting with somebody there online yesterday, and as soon as they see my order number and realize who it is, they block me," he added. "It's just a total scam."
Electalk.com, which according to WHOIS has only been in business since Aug. 30, did not respond to requests for a comment.
Unfortunately for Koufodontis, he only discovered after placing his order that other consumers have also been badly burned by Electalk.com. A quick search turned up numerous complaints on online forums including this one from Scam.com, titled Electalk.com electronics Internet scam:
I ordered a Samsung Captivate cellphone from Electalk.com. They had me do a bank wire transfer to them (shame on me for being so foolish) I did a transfer on October 4th and here it is November 24th & I still have not received [sic] my cell phone. I should have done my research online before ordering because they have gotten really bad reviews. They come up with all kinds of excuses, backordred [sic], shipped to the wrong address, their boss is on vacation, item is stuck in customs & then they try to scam you into sending more money to get your items out of customs.
Another post on a site called Electronics Scams, a "blacklist of scam sales sites, and information about these types of fraud," called Electalk.com "a scam." The site also includes an article about Chinese scams, which warns that for every legitimate Chinese site selling electronics, there are hundreds of phony ones waiting defraud unsuspecting consumers.
A cursory glance at Electalk.com reveals prices that are far too low to be real. For example, a 46-inch Toshiba HDTV that sells for $1,659 on Amazon.com sells for just $235, on Electalk.com, while a $900 Nikon D-90 goes for only $231 on the site.
Although Koufodontis realizes he's never going to see his $870 again, he hopes his experience helps others avoid getting scammed. "I want these people to be exposed, so others aren't taken like I was."
When you do shop online, especially when doing business with sites you've never heard of, follow these 10 tips for safe online shopping from the BBB. Below are three of the most important:
- Do your research – If you want to do business with a site you've never heard of, search for it to see if other consumers have had negative experiences. For example, the search term "Electalk.com + scam" turned up everything you'd need to know. Also beware of bad English, like this ditty from Electalk explaining why they don't accept PayPal: "we have many bad experience by paypal, in that it make the every deal last a long time and sometime lead to our business to be cheated by disloyal buyers."
- Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – If you come across amazing deals that look too good to be true -- like those above -- they undoubtedly are. Amazon is able to offer good deals due to the massive volume of its sales. If an unknown site offers the same item at a fraction of the price, be very suspicious.
- Always pay with a credit card, and never, ever wire money – Under federal law, using a credit card allows you to dispute the charges if you don't receive the item. And if you're dealing with an offshore scam like Electalk.com beyond the reach of U.S. law, you'll only be responsible for $50 at most if you're scammed. Once you've wired your money to a disreputable site, it's gone for good.