BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Good furniture at a great price: that's what customers say they expected from a shop on Facebook Marketplace called Southern Elegant Charm, but what several say they got, was a ripoff.
One customer says he placed an order last fall, paid a $450 deposit, and now seven months later has no furniture and no money back.
His post opened up a flood of comments from people sharing similar experiences or saying they had seen advertisements on trading sites in Hoover, Pelham, and Helena.
Now, the Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force, including Vestavia Hills detectives, have opened a case on Ethan Nicholas and Southern Elegant Charm, and tell us they've found more than 20 victims who they believe are owed thousands of dollars.
We emailed the address listed by online payment provider Square, but got no reply.
"It's inherently a risky venture," says David Smitherman, the Birmingham Better Business Bureau's (BBB) President. "With each one of these sites, there are thousands and thousands of vendors, and your chance of doing business with a good one could be slim."
The BBB recommends doing as much investigating as you can before you buy, including looking at their online reviews.
"I tell people it's just one piece of the process you should consider," Smitherman says.
Like many things online, those reviews can be faked, so the BBB says finding real customers who've used them and an actual address is better. How can you protect yourself if you decide to buy?
"Pay with a credit card," Smitherman recommends. "If they insist on cash, or if they insist on a prepaid debit card and you call them at the number before they ever ship it to you, that should be a red flag. Because with cash or a debit card, once that is gone it's gone."
You should also inspect the merchandise before you buy it, and meet in a public place to exchange the money and whatever you're buying.
Detectives tell us they've turned over the evidence against Nicholas to the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office to decide whether to press charges.