DennisBeaverAugust 14, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s story will be of interest to anyone who shops online, and especially for computers, or other expensive electronics. While most transactions go through easily, if something does go wrong — your shipment is never received — getting credit or charges reversed is generally not all that difficult.

But what happens if the company you are dealing with has a glitch in their credit system big enough to drive a Greyhound Bus through and your account is never credited? They keep on billing you for something never received and they know it.

If the words, “Am I dealing with a crooked company? Can this damage my credit?” come to mind, then you know exactly the way Eiji Yamashita of Hanford felt when he found himself in that precise situation, dealing with Toshiba America.

It all began in late November, 2009, when the Hanford Sentinel reporter was online, looking for a laptop, and came across an interesting offer from Toshiba Direct.

Customers with good credit could obtain a Toshiba Credit Card through their financing partner, Toronto Dominion Retail Credit Services, custom order a computer and receive really terrific payment terms — “no payment and no interest for six months.”

Yamashita was immediately approved and ordered an L500 Satellite computer, with a scheduled UPS delivery date of Dec. 1. In the days following, he tracked his order. It was shown “on schedule.”

But on Dec. 1, there was no knock on the door, no computer delivered, as far as Yamashita knew. Neither he, nor anyone ever saw a UPS truck at his home. And yet, when he phoned Toshiba to find out what happened, he was told that it was delivered, and the UPS Driver had so reported.

He immediately called UPS and was told the same thing. “Our tracking shows it was left at the front door,” they informed him.

“Not exactly the way to handle an expensive laptop,” he thought, and concluded that if it was delivered, then it was stolen. As there was no proof of receipt — no signature — both Toshiba and UPS suggested that a police report be made at once.

“That’s what I did on Dec. 2 and faxed a copy to Toshiba using a form they sent me. Additionally, I requested a credit to my account, and on Dec. 15, received an e-mail from Toshiba Direct indicating a full refund was issued.”

But then things got even more interesting, as on Dec. 31, there, at his front door stood a friendly UPS man holding a package from Toshiba. “It was out of the blue, no one had told me anything was on the way, and I refused it, immediately calling Toshiba, and they confirmed I did the correct thing, and they would see I was not erroneously charged for this attempted delivery.”

Beginning in January, Yamashita began to receive bills for the computer he never received, in spite of all the assurances Toshiba gave him. Over the next several months, though he placed repeated calls to both Toshiba Direct and its credit card billing department, what he was told would make anyone seriously wonder if they were managed by The Three Stooges:

“The billing department does not communicate directly with Toshiba Direct, and our records show nothing about any refund.”

In May of this year, in total frustration, Yamashita contacted You and the Law. He would not be the only person to wonder just what was going on at this company and if others were being improperly billed.

Yamashita asked a key question: “What are the chances of someone being billed by Toshiba Credit — let’s say an elderly couple, timid, no idea what to do — and for fear of ruining their credit, might actually pay the bill? If this is happening to me, how many other Toshiba customers are affected?”

“They won’t talk to you — send an e-mail.”

I’ve generally found that once I speak with a company’s media or public relations department, suddenly common sense takes over. I phoned Toshiba’s P.R. firm — Access Communications of San Francisco — explaining to the receptionist that I was doing a story about a very odd billing situation — but instead of promptly connecting me with the right person, was told by this roaring idiot, “I can’t do that. You have to send an e-mail!”

Calling back later, and getting a more competent receptionist, I was put in touch with a Toshiba V.P., Paul Vollenweider. He understood the problem and promised to immediately find out what was going on and get right back to me.

Twenty-four hours later, the account was zeroed out. But that’s not the interesting part of this story.

That computer which UPS and Toshiba claimed to have been delivered on Dec. 1st?

It never left China. Never made it on the UPS truck. Stay tuned.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.