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Consumer Watch: Customers still awaiting refund from uniform retailer

Sep. 12, 2009 - 04:03PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 12, 2009 - 04:03PM  |  
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Air Force wife Lisa Knickerbocker's hopes are dimming that she and her husband will ever see their $140 refund from Maine online uniform retailer M.A.A.C.S. — even after a February court order requiring refunds to be paid.

But after learning that other service members have had problems with the company since the court order was issued, Knickerbocker wants to get the word out:

Buyer beware.

"We may never see our money, but I don't want this to happen to anyone else," said Knickerbocker, whose husband, Master Sgt. Ken Knickerbocker, is deployed.

He ordered uniform items in August 2007 and received some of them, but Lisa said the bulk of the order — $140 worth — was never shipped.

In February, the Maine attorney general announced that M.A.A.C.S. and its owner, Allison MacDonald, had entered into a Maine Superior Court consent decree requiring the company to pay refunds to 96 service members for military uniforms that were never delivered.

MacDonald also agreed that if any additional complaints were received by the attorney general, refunds would be paid within 30 days.

But by the end of March, the Knickerbockers' refund still hadn't arrived.

Lisa Knickerbocker said she called the Maine attorney general's office and was told that MacDonald had brought in copies of checks to show staffers that she had issued refunds to customers.

The Maine attorney general's office has contacted the service members who were supposed to receive refunds. "Those who have responded say they have not gotten their money back," Assistant Attorney General Jim McKenna said.

"M.A.A.C.S. — the corporation and the owner — have both entered into an agreement to pay back the service members," McKenna said. "As far as we can tell, it hasn't happened."

In fact, he said, his office has received 117 new complaints about the company since the court order was issued.

His office has filed a motion with the Maine Superior Court to enforce the court order and has asked for a hearing. "We're going to enforce this court order as vigorously as we can," he said.

Knickerbocker said she was spurred to call Military Times after finding out that other people have ordered uniforms from M.A.A.C.S. as recently as this summer and have not received items they paid for.

MacDonald could not be reached for comment; her phones are not working.

The Better Business Bureau has given M.A.A.C.S. an "F" rating because 643 complaints have been filed against the company in the past 36 months, and the company has failed to respond to 354 of those complaints. Another 119 had not been resolved. Only 89 had been resolved.

Other names associated with the company are Maine Embroidery, Military Accessories and Community Support Inc., Rapid Fielding Initiative Gear and RFIG.

If you are shopping online, here are some points to consider:

• The military exchanges are the only Defense Department-authorized vendors for uniforms — even if you see another company displaying some sort of Defense Department connection or logo.

• Use your credit card, rather than your debit card. You have more protection when you're disputing charges and a better chance of getting your money back. If you're not satisfied with the company's response, you can contact your credit card company to report that the billed items were not delivered.

Check your credit card agreement for time limits on disputing charges. If the company stalls you with repeated promises that it will deliver merchandise, and you wait too long to dispute the charges, it may be too late — as some service members found when they tried to get their money back from M.A.A.C.S.

• Read terms and conditions on the company's Web site. Unless you specifically agree to a longer term, the company must ship within 30 days, or you have the right to cancel the order and get a refund.

• Check out the company's complaint history with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.

• Google the company. Some M.A.A.C.S. customers regretted not taking this step, which would have provided them some information about complaints.

But I noticed that Google didn't pull up any references to articles or BBB information about the company until I plugged in "M.A.A.C.S." and "uniform." So try various keyword combinations.

_______________________

Questions? Comments? E-mail staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at kjowers@militarytimes.com">kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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