September 15, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
On Sunday, Aug. 21 at 10 a.m., readers Laura Salinas and her fiancee Jeff Guardiola purchased a 15.6 inch, Windows 10, Acer Aspire E15 laptop computer from the East Hills Target store in Bakersfield. They drove home, plugged it in to charge the battery, and then at around 3 p.m., turned it on.
At that moment, their nightmare began, when “Augustin, Jr.” appeared on the log-in screen, requesting a password.
“Who is Augustin, Jr. and how could his name be on my new computer?” Laura wondered. She would soon discover that the screen was a 13 inch, not 15.6, and was running Windows 8, and much more.
“The serial number on the computer did not match the number on the box which was taped to appear new and unopened. But to top it off, it wasn’t an Acer! It was an Asus! How this used computer got in the Acer box was a mystery, so we returned at 4 o’clock for an exchange, which we thought would be simple and only take a few minutes,” she explained.
It would prove to anything but simple.
The couple walked directly to the electronics department, explained to a clerk that a different computer was in the box than what should have been, and asked that it be exchanged.
“Almost immediately, both the electronics department manager and a loss prevention employee appeared, refused to examine the computer, and within a few minutes, their smiles and helpful attitude were replaced by glacial stares,” she explained.
Had the Acer been purchased someone who put an old, used computer in the box, and, then, not checked by Customer Service during the exchange, the box winds up back on the sales floor and our readers buy it? Or, was the couple trying to rip off Target?
“Retailers such as Target keep a history of items that have a serial number in their inventory control system. Type in or scan the numbers, and you will know if had been sold and returned, of if this is the first sale,” Southern Florida-based private investigator Peter Crosa told You and the Law, adding, “An accurate history is important for such things as product recalls and should be available at the floor level to store employees.”
We asked Laura if the Target employees ran the serial number when they returned.
“They did, and the serial number on the box came back as never having been sold before! They didn’t just refuse to believe us, but would not provide the telephone number to a manager, treated us like thieves, and finally ordered us leave the store. I was in tears!” Laura —8½ months pregnant — explained.
On Monday, Aug. 22, Laura contacts You and the Law, we call the Target store, and speak with a manager whose tone of voice says, “You are trying to help crooks get away with stealing from us.” Next call — to company headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Senior Public Relations Associate, Megan Boyd — who promises to “look into this and get right back to us.”
We never did hear from Megan, but Laura receives a voice mail from Gabriel at the Target store. “You may exchange the computer.”
Next, with Laura on the line, we speak with Gabriel. “So, why are you now agreeing to exchange the computer?” His answer reveals a huge, system-wide problem at Target which puts their customers at risk of being falsely accused of theft.
“After your call to Public Relations, corporate ran the serial number on a different data base and found that the computer had in fact been sold and returned by someone else. But when we entered the same numbers into our system, the information showed that it had never been sold before, so it appeared they were trying to defraud Target.”
To private investigator Crosa, based on that information, “Conclusions and the actions of the store personal were understandable.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 2:33 p.m. we emailed Target Public Relations the following:
By depriving your employees the ability of accurately searching a product’s sale/return history, two innocent people found themselves treated as criminals. Why does Target not provide its employees full access to the sale/return history of items with serial numbers, such as computers, to prevent situations like this from occurring?
What steps, if any, are you taking company-wide to enable a proper serial number search to be conducted?
We are still waiting for Target to reply. Laura and Jeff are owed an apology. Perhaps when CEO Brian Cornell sees this story he might just give them both a call.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.