Ruth Sloan, a sweet 83-year-old woman, was flipping through her Plain Dealer recently when she spotted a full page ad that was right up her alley. Sprawled across the page was an offer for laptop computers on the cheap, part of a “new national program,” the copy claimed.
Underneath a grainy shot of a your everyday laptop, the text explained that consumers could get their hands on a limited supply of EZ Books — “Windows powered PCs” perfect for “students, grandparents and small businesses.” The computers ran “$600 in stores,” the text read, but if consumers called before “lines close in 48 hours,” they’d only have to dish out $179 for the hardware. Sloan was sold on what appeared to be a legit offer.
“I had been thinking about getting one so I could keep in touch closer with my cousin in Virginia,” she tells Scene. “I’m 83 and it’s hard for me to read and I can’t do much writing, so I thought this would be a good way.”
But when the delivery hit her doorstep, Sloan says she was stuck with a bunk product.
More info after the jump.
The machine was barely more than a juiced-up calculator, 8 by 5 ½ inches and with a display screen so small Sloan couldn’t even read the type. Inside the box was also a disclaimer saying the company didn’t accept returns or refunds.
Feeling fleeced, Sloan contacted the Better Business Bureau. It turns out the company behind EZ Books — Indiana-based Top Ten Imports — was an old favorite at the BBB, according to Sue McConnell, the agency’s local senior VP. In the past 36 months the company has had 122 complaints filed against it, dropping Top Ten into a lower bracket with an “F” rating on the agency’s scale. Of the complaints, 86 were resoled; 75 were regarding refund or exchange issues and 16 were linked to advertising issues.
McConnell tells Scene the BBB has concerns about how the EZ Books are being presented to potential buyers.
‘The ad leaves a lot of important details out. People are calling and responding to this ad, and they’re surprised at what they get, and then they’re very unhappy when they find out they can’t return it and get their money back,” she says.
Top Ten first got into trouble with the BBB when it was hawking a home heater known as the iHeater (we’re not making that up). Ads claimed the product could reduce energy costs, according to the BBB, but the product only jacked-up the monthly bill.
This time around, the BBB wants to fact-check the claims in Top Ten’s PD ads, specifically whether or not the products do sell for $600 in stores and if there’s a limited supply. McConnell also says the EZ Book’s box is a little suspect: the container shows people sitting around a computer that looks normal, not the pint-sized product inside. To be fair, the EZ-Book is powered by Windows — Windows CE, which is used for “minimalistic computers and embedded systems,” geekspeak for anything electronic in the Fisher-Price range.
Scene went ahead and dialed the 877 number on the ad, which also ran in yesterday’s (Monday) PD Metro section. After an over-excited baritone recording told us to get that credit card number and shipping address ready, following a couple of long minutes of slow jazz, an operator clicked on the line. We asked to speak to management and passed along our message about the BBB’s warning. They sounded surprised. Stay turned for updates.
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