CHICAGO (CBS) — If you get your hands on a bottle of hand sanitizer these days, it’s like striking gold.
So imagine a Chicago woman’s surprise when she found a website, offering plenty in stock last March when the rush for sanitizers was on.
It’s a must-have weapon in the fight against COVID-19, prompting new business for companies like California-based ArtNaturals. Its online website said it had lots of sanitizer “in stock,” and prompted a purchase by a Chicago-area woman named Catherine, who asked us not to use her full name.
“I placed an order for two eight-ounce bottles of scent free” for $25 that included taxes and shipping, Catherine told CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman.
A week later, she got two bottles of lavender-scented sanitizer.
“I know for a fact that I am allergic to lavender, so when this came, it’s like, I can’t use it,” Catherine said. “They sent me the wrong thing.”
Since then, she’s been fighting to get a refund making countless calls with the same automated response – “We’re inundated with calls right now,” and never was able to talk to anyone.
Catherine was not alone.
The Better Business Bureau has given the company an F rating after it received over 300 complaints in the last 30 days that were not answered by the firm.
Steve McFarland, chief executive officer of the BBB’s Los Angeles office, said that there are Federal Trade Commission ground rules for companies selling on the internet.
They require that companies have a “reasonable basis for saying a product can be shipped within a certain time.”
If it can’t be done within 30 days, companies must notify you about the delay, provide a revised shipment date and explain your right to cancel and get a full and prompt refund.
The operator of ArtNaturals posted video on its Facebook page last March, showing its inventory of sanitizers. And as of Wednesday, its web page still said the sanitizers were still in stock.
Now, Catherine wants to warn others about what happened to her.
“I’m one of the lucky ones, because I got product,” she said, “But it’s the wrong stuff.”
And she’s still waiting for the refund that she has requested twice.
“It’s $25 that I really wanted to spend to make me and my family safe,” Catherine said.
She has filed complaints with the BBB, the FTC, the Illinois Attorney General’s office, and CBS 2.
“Because you guys get the job done,” Catherine said. “The investigative reporting you do, you guys get the job done. I don’t think I can trust anybody else to follow up on something like this that to me is a big deal.”
As a result of our inquiry, the CEO of the Los Angeles BBB office reached out Wednesday to talk with the owner of ArtNaturals – who had never returned their calls either.
McFarland said the company owner told him he was “overwhelmed” by COVID-19 related demands for sanitizer. He agreed to work with the BBB to post information on their website regarding product availability and to hire more staff to answer consumer calls.
We tried to call the owner directly, but were unable to reach him or even leave a message on his answering machine.