Oro Gold Cosmetics Scam

One of my goals during my recent vacation to Las Vegas was to attend a timeshare presentation.  Somehow, during all my years on this earth, I’ve avoided being to one – and yet I’m extremely curious to experience firsthand the extremely oppressive sales tactics I’ve read about.  Alas, even though we stayed at the Tahiti Village resort for several days, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it.

Walking by the Oro Gold cosmetics store at the Rio Hotel was almost as good – I got to experience the high pressure sales tactics and, as I was waiting for my husband to finish with something, not really waste time at all.  And lord, are those sales tactics hard.

It all started when I walked by the Oro Gold store.  A metrosexual looking guy with a hard Israeli accent stopped me to offer me a sample.  He then somehow engaged me – I forget exactly what he said – and brought me into the store.  He had me sit down and he proceeded to apply some sort of eye cream under my eyes.  The eye cream was supposed to be for wrinkles, but I guess I didn’t have enough for him to fuzz about, so instead he talked about collagen and puffiness and so forth.  My eyes were pretty puffy, I must admit, as I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before and before I left that morning I’d gotten some sunscreen into my eye, so my eyes had been watering for half an hour.

The cream worked.  After I used it my eyes were less puffy and looked better – or at least that’s what my daughters and my husband said.  The latter never notices anything, so the difference must have been noticeable.  That said, this is supposed to be a cream to use once a week, so I’m not sure why immediate concealing effects would be relevant.

He also asked me how old I was – I imagine meaning to tell me that this product would make me look younger.  And while I think I look exactly my age, he may have thought I looked younger as he was pretty much silent when I said I was 43.

I guess I didn’t look convinced enough so he moved on to the next product, an exfoliating solution which he put on my underarm and then rubbed off taking a lot of my dead skin with it.  Once again I had to admit that it worked, my arm was much softer and, actually, I think it still is.  So he’s probably right that I need to exfoliate.

Then the sale pressure started.  He asked me if I liked them or I loved them, and I didn’t know how to respond as I was pretty indifferent to the products.  He also kept extolling the fact that they were 100% organic, but looking at the ingredients which included various chemicals, I didn’t think that could be the case.  He hurried to move on with his spiel to stop me from looking carefully.

And then the sales tactics started.  I knew the products would be expensive so I wasn’t surprised when he threw figures in the hundreds of dollars.  He kept making different combinations of products and offering them to me at different prices (all in the hundreds), throwing extras, etc.  I told him they were good, but I didn’t have my credit card so I couldn’t buy them.  Still, he went on to show me on the computer how much they sold for so I’d see what a bargain they were.  Of course, I didn’t believe for a second that those were the real prices.

I told him several times that I’d think about it and then come back.  Finally he accepted I wasn’t buying and he sarcastically said “you’ll think about it” and pushed me (I don’t think literally, but it felt like it) out of the store.

I have to say that I totally understand how people succumb to these sale practices.  Even though I wasn’t really interested in the products, and I knew this was a scam, after he had done something for me (spend time, made one eye look better), it was hard to say “no”.  Indeed, I was happy I didn’t have my credit card with me as there was no way I could say “yes” even if I wanted to.

After I came home I read about Oro Gold and found that the products get high ratings on Amazon.com, but they also are sold for much less money (update, Oro Gold seems to have managed to get Amazon to pull lower-priced Oro Gold products, you still can save by buying on e-bay, there is no indication that anyone is actually making forgeries of the product).  I’m never going to spend $75 on a 2 oz Collagen Renewal Cream, but it’s still better than the $248 it sells for on their website or whatever amount it sells for at their stores.  I also read about the high-pressure sales tactics at other stores, and the fact that sales associates tell customers they can return the products within 14 days, but the receipts are stamped to say “no returns”.  Given that you don’t get a receipt until /after/ you’ve made the purchase, that is very deceitful (and probably unenforceable, but really, who is going to sue?).

My advise would be to not buy Oro Gold cosmetics.  Even if they work well, a company that intimidates customers and lies to them should not be rewarded.  I’m sure there are many very good cosmetics out there.  I’ve been using Avon Anew series and they’re much cheaper and I think quite good.

Dec. 4, 2012. Update.

I’ve done some more looking into Oro Gold Cosmetics, and it appears to be an offshoot (perhaps even a shell company) of the “Dead Sea Cosmetics” businesses that have been under investigation by the US and other governments, as revealed by a cable from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv released by Wikileaks.

These companies recruit young Israelis who have just finished their military service.  They send them to America (and other countries) on tourist visas, put them up in apartments (for which they charge room and board) and set them to work on their stores and kiosks on a commission basis.   I think this explains why the sales people are so aggressive and manipulative, and so willing to lie to customers.  After a few months, the employees go back to Israel.

In addition to scamming consumers and exploiting workers, these companies seem to also be involved in organized crime, including drug trafficking and money laundering.

Here is an interesting article about how these kiosks work in England.

But it gets even more interesting than that.  I decided to take a look at the ingredients for the peeling product that the salesman had applied to me.  While I couldn’t find the ingredient list at the Oro Gold website, others listed water and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) as the two main ingredients.  It’s been a long time since High School chemistry, but Wikipedia was helpful enough to explain that PVA is used mostly for its film-forming and adhesive qualities.  In other words, it’s a glue.  A quick search for PVA and glue, quickly confirmed that PVA is the main ingredient in household glue.

Do you remember what happens when you get some glue on your skin and let it dry?  Come on, give it a try and then rub it off!  Yep, the glue you rub off looks very much like skin and your actual skin feels much smoother and softer.    Their $100 peeling gel is just a trick.

It would appear that Oro Gold is not just literally scummy, but also scammy.

Dec. 15th update

I found a New York Times article about the lack of benefits of gold in cosmetics. It’s worth a read.

Also, apparently the Oro Gold peel does not contain PVA (or does no longer – see comments below).  Instead it contains carboner, a thickener, which when combined with cetrimonium chloride and rubbed on the skin, forms white beads.   The colorant in the product (which is not present in other Oro Gold products) is probably meant to make these look like skin.  This combination does help remove dead skin, but then again, so does glue.

Jan. 22 update

Last week I had a long phone conversation with Judy White, the Costumer Service Manager with Mazal Enterprises, the company behind OroGold.  This is what I learned from the conversation:

– Mazal Enterprises is the manufacturer and distributor of a number of different beauty lines, including OroGold, HerStyler, VineVera, Lionesse and Vivo Per Lei among others.

– They are a private, family-owned company and they are not related to Death Sea Cosmetics or another company.

– They have both company-owned stores and licensee stores.  I think she said there were 200 stores world wide, but she couldn’t tell me which proportion was each or which companies were running stores with the Oro Gold name.  She did say that their licensees agree to only do business with their company.   But not knowing who the licensees are, it’s impossible to know if they might be the same people connected with the “Dead Sea cosmetic mafia”, to give it a name 🙂

– She blamed all the bad customer service to licensees who were not doing their job correctly  She says they have been closing down kiosks (which she claims have never been operated by Mazel) as well as OroGold stores that have caused problems.   She said all stores in Vegas have been closed down.

– She said they don’t have any stores in the Philippines.  If there is a store there, they don’t know about it.

– She says they are trying hard to deal with the customer service problems in the company by making all their stores company-run.  But she claimed that took time.

– She says that she will be happy to send a refund to anyone who contacts her.  Her e-mail is judy@mazalent.com

Unfortunately, there were other things she couldn’t explain:

– How is it that OroGold sales people throughout the world use the exact same selling techniques, and how come those techniques are the same ones used by Dead Sea Cosmetics and other companies.  She tried to argue that it had to do with individual sales people getting over enthusiastic, but couldn’t explain why they would all say the same things, show the same products, down to the same trick of folding the receipt so people can’t tell the products cannot be returned.

– She couldn’t explain why so many people throughout the world have reported that OroGold sales people are Israeli (or otherwise have an accent that might indicate that they’re from Israel).

– She couldn’t explain /why/ the chain had a “no returns” policy on unopened products.   She brought up having bought some make up at Nordstroms – I imagine to make the point that she wouldn’t be able to return it – and was surprised when I told her Nordstroms would be more than happy to take it back.

As Judy kept emphasizing that the company wanted to change its image, but that would take time, I mentioned that they could eliminate most complaints if they accepted returns on unopened products (she says they will take back open products if they cause an allergic reaction).  After all, the biggest complaints are that people feel ripped off.  Accept returns and that goes away.  She seemed to get the idea and said she’d bring up to her superiors.  Personally, I think that the whole hard sale/overprice/lying/no-refunds method is the intentional modus operandi of Mazal, but she genuinely seemed to be unaware of that.  Meanwhile, however, if you want a refund do e-mail her (and then let me know if you’ve gotten it).

May 2013 update

Despite Judy’s promises, as detailed above, comments below indicate that she has not been responsive to e-mails and has not offered refunds to those who’ve gotten a hold of her on the phone.  She has not responded to my own e-mail either.

Clearly, Judy’s phone calls were just an attempt to damage control – but a half-hearted one.  Perhaps she thought that sending me $500 worth of products (which equaled all of 3) would buy me off.  If so, no such luck for her.  Most likely, she wasn’t “in” on the scam – she probably honestly thought the company was trying to re-invent itself.  She did sound very naive on the phone.  You can continue writing to her, and if you do succeed in getting a refund by all means comment and say so, but don’t keep your hopes up.

If you’ve been scammed out of a lot of money by Oro Gold, this is what I suggest you do (again, no guarantees).

– Many local TV channels have consumer reporters.  Contact all the TV channels in your area (if you live somewhat near to the Oro Gold store) and ask the reporters to cover the story.  I, personally, think it would make great TV.

– If the Oro Gold store you shopped at is in a large city, check if there is a consumers’ affairs department at City Hall, a deputy City Attorney that handles consumer issues or a people’s ombudsman.  If so, ask them for help.   If that’s not available to you, check to see if there is a national consumers’ office (sometimes it’s part of the national ombudsman or national human rights commission) or contact your City Council or state representatives.  Also contact your national and state’s attorney general.

– If neither option helps, perhaps a little self-help will.  Write a story about your experiences and submit it to your local paper.  The freebies, in particular, appreciate free content.  If there is an AOL Patch in your city or a blog that covers news, submit it there as well.

– “Like” and “share” this blog post on Facebook and Twitter.  The more attention they get for their slimy sales tactics, the more likely they are to stop.  Or at least give you a refund.

– Check what the laws are regarding product returns in your state or country. They do vary.   In California, where I live, for example, if products are not returnable, the retailer has to place a conspicuous sign explaining that.   Oro Gold is trying to get around this by claiming that their products cannot be resold due to health considerations, but I personally don’t buy it, in particular if the product is still shrink wrapped.   If your state or country has a similar law, you may want to go to the store at a time when the original salesperson is not present, or send someone over, and take pictures of any area where a “no returns sign” could be placed.  This is because some people have claimed that when they complain, suddenly a “no return sign” appears out of nowhere.  If they have violated this law, you could at least take them to small claims court (if available in your jurisdiction).  Or you can just the photos to illustrate your story.

– Also check what the audio recording laws are in your state or country.  In some places, you only need the consent of one party for a face-to-face recording.  If that’s the case where where you shop, you may want to send a friend with a hidden recording device (e.g. a cell phone) so that you can get the whole “Oro Gold” treatment on video/audio.  Make sure that your friend asks them whether the products are returnable.  It’s often a game of “she says, he says” with Oro Gold.  Assuming it’s legal in your state to do it, you can upload the video to YouTube.  Definitely let me know about that if you do it.

Internet Puppy Scam

We’ve been talking about getting a dog for a while.  We figured we’d wait until the kids were a bit older and, all of sudden, we realized that they were already older (7 and 10) and that if we didn’t get a dog soon they’d go much of their childhood without one.  Camila, in particular, has been asking for a dog for a LONG time.  Last year I promised her I’d get her one if she didn’t whine until the summer.  She actually managed to do that (though I had to remind her each time).  The weekend before last, for some reason Mike told her that we could get a dog now – so I started looking.

The kids didn’t care too much about what type of dog we got, but I was pretty adamant that it had to be cute.  For me, that meant no mutts (let’s be honest, most of them are ugly), no hounds or other skinny dogs and no small dogs – they are just too precious.  Going through the breeds of dogs that I could actually find around here, I ended up deciding it had to be a Goldern or Labrador retriever, a German or Australian Shepherd, a Siberian Husky or a Border collie.  I had originally wanted a grown dog – so I wouldn’t have to house train it – but Mike wanted a puppy or a young dog, so that’s what I started to look for.

I first started looking on Petfinder, a wonderful website that lists adoptable pets from shelters and rescue groups throughout the country (and more important, the Bay Area).  But I quickly realized my chances of finding a dog with those characteristic were minimal.  Plus the rescue groups, in particular, have pretty onerous adoption processes that include “thorough” questionnaires and home visits, I definitely didn’t want to bother with that.  Plus adoption “donations” for these groups can be as high as $250!

My next place to look was Craigslist.  Some shelters advertise here, but there are also ads from people re-homing their dogs and selling puppies.  Now, Craigslist doesn’t allow people to actually sell dogs but they allow “small” re-homing fees, but what constitutes “small” seems open to interpretation.  Anyway, most of the puppies we called about seemed to be in the $150 to $400 range.  Unfortunately, Craigslist didn’t have any puppies I wanted when I looked, though they do add new ones daily.

By searching around the net, I then came across oodle marketplace, an online classified website.  Here I found lots of listings for puppies at very reasonable prices (about $200-300).  I hurried to e-mail the owners, asking for more information on the puppies as well as pictures.  Almost immediately the replies started coming.  I wrote to seven people, and got five replies back.  All of those were SCAMS.  I’m copying the responses below though they are pretty much the same:

  1. They are all written in bad English (typical of Nigerian scams)
  2. They all offer say their puppies are AKC registered, yet the puppies are free or too cheap
  3. The puppies all come with equipment, guarantees or other things that cost money
  4. They claim that what they most care about is a good home for the puppies and send a long questionnaire.

As I’m a big fan of reading scam baiter e-mail threads (and I have to recommend them to you, the baits are soo funny though sometimes really cruel), I could tell from the first e-mail that it was a scam.  A quick google search for the e-mail address led me to many ads offering all sorts of puppies for sale, in many cities.  But how did the scam work?

Another quick search leads to the answer:  the scammer tells you that she’s no longer in your city but she’ll be more than happy to mail you the puppy.  All you have to do is pay for the shipping (or a low price that includes shipping), directly to the shipping company.  The shipping company they’ll use is a fake and requires payment by Western Union or Moneygram (which will be untraceable to them once they receive it).

Personally, I don’t know why anyone would buy a puppy sight unseen (even from a reputable breeder) but these scams must work because they continue doing them.

Oh, well.  At least scam baiters are having fun with these scams, this one is hilarious.  And as for me, I went back to Craigslist and got a gorgeous German Shepherd puppy from a private party for a very reasonable price.

Continue reading Internet Puppy Scam

Creative Communication: Scamming a child

“Mommy, I won, I won”.  Mika rushed out of her 4th grade classroom today, paper in hand, a huge smile on her face, happy and proud of herself.  She’d won a poetry contest, she told me, almost out of breath in her excitement.

I knew immediately what it was.  I had read about poetry scams years before, understood well how they work.  They ask you to submit a poem (many advertise in magazines) for a “prestigious contest”.  Some time later you’ll hear that your poem has been selected to be published – trouble is that if you inquire further, you’ll find out it will be published in a  volume only marketed to the authors of the poems and that there is almost no selectivity as to what poems are published.  Creative Communication admits publishing about half of all the poems it gets, and does not explain how the selection process works or who the “judges” are.  They sell the book for $26.40.

I was not aware that my daughter had entered this contest at school last year.  Creative Communication apparently uses teachers to get their students to submit their poems.  I am sure that my daughter’s teacher thought it was legit.

I was torn about telling Mika that her contest was a scam, but when she asked if I’d buy the book, I asked her whether she wanted me to tell her the truth about the contest.  Mika is very mature for her age and I try to be very honest with her, but she was so excited that I didn’t want to crush her.  But she wanted the truth and she got it.  She felt bad, disappointed, taken.  She even wrote about it on her new blog and e-mailed her friend to warn her.  I hate that that slimy company got to hurt my child.  It is just unconscionable to play with the feelings of such young children, exploit their emotions and profit from the naivete.  These are children, for God’s sake!  And parents, of course, many of whom probably cannot afford the overpriced volume but will feel they’re failing their children if they don’t.

If there was a hell, there would be a special place for the owners of Creative Communication and other companies of the sort.  I will, of course, inform our daughter’s teacher (principal and school district) of this scam.