People desperate to fend off the coronavirus are turning to online companies hawking face masks -- but some customers say they've been duped in what feels like a coronavirus con.
At least 2 online face mask stores are selling emergency accessories. They certainly have all the fixings of legit online companies ... flaunting their spiffy designs and slicks shots of "customers" using their gear.
We spoke to Stephen, a 29-year-old pastor in North Carolina who went to one of the sites -- a company called EM General -- to purchase 2 “Coronavirus N95” masks for $49.98 ... a bargain these days. It even includes replaceable filters.
One of Stephen's 3 young kids has a respiratory condition ... so, you can understand why he felt he'd really scored. As he put it, “I felt like I needed to find a mask, because they’re all selling out.”
After making his purchase though, Stephen got a little uneasy. He says the site has since updated its phone number from a Grand Rapids, MI number to a 1-800 number. It also altered its email address.
Perhaps most troubling are the profile photos of execs on EM General's website. For instance, there's a smiling, java-sipping shot of CEO Mike Thomas. Nice guy, right?
Problem is, a little Internet sleuthing turned up the same exact photos on at least 2 different company sites with no names, but different titles. Sure smells like someone's using stock photos.
Same goes for EM General's CFO and COO Grace H. Clark. Unless she's one of a set of triplets ... she’s also “Jennifer S.” offering testimonials for a piggy bank company, and "Anida Smith" promoting some kind of legal staffing company.
Again, the apparent stock images are a fishy sign -- and it all leaves Stephen feeling like he got rooked.
We tried to contact the company, and got an automated email reply blaming shipping snags on “HIGH volume of demand of our mask.”
We checked with the Better Business Bureau and it's on the job. We're told they're investigating EM General and several other companies involved in nearly a dozen similar complaints.
A BBB spokesperson tells us, "We have started seeing reports on BBB Scam Tracker from people who have lost money to online scams for face masks, and we’ve also seen reports of merchants using COVID-19 as an excuse for slow shipments and factory shutdowns. This is likely just the beginning."
Another company BBB is probing is called SafeMask which happens to share an address with a shutdown website called RussianBeautyOnline.com. The BBB's Scam Tracker Report says, SafeMask "may be a rebranding of a business with an 'F' rating."
We reached out to SafeMask and, so far, no response.
What's obvious here -- based on BBB investigations and customer experiences -- buyer beware when shopping for coronavirus gear.