Q: Seven months ago, I sent a check for $1,445 to Jonathan Blitz at Alpha Omega Fitness Equipment, a retailer I found online, for the purchase of a Life Fitness rowing machine. Then Mr. Blitz said he needed $75 for additional shipping costs. At that point, I asked for my money back, but he refused. Eventually I sent the $75. To date, despite numerous phone calls, I have not received the rowing machine or a refund. -Terry Hepp, Chicago, Ill.
A: Just because a company has a Web site doesn't mean there's much to back it up. Though at alphaomegafitness.com, you read that the company has been selling used gym equipment for 22 years, it lists no address, just three phone numbers.
I rang all three of the numbers listed on the home page. Only one was answered, by someone calling himself Jay, who told me he had heard of your order but didn't know the details. The next day, I called the same number and reached the voice-mail box of Jonathan Blitz.
I tried calling several more times, and when Jay―or Jonathan―finally called back, his memory was greatly improved. He told me that he'd requested more than $75 in shipping fees from you before he could send the unit, and that he had not heard back from you. He also claimed his company had incurred substantial additional costs since the rowing machine had been crated for shipment at their Costa Mesa, Calif., warehouse and then uncrated when the deal stalled.
But when I asked why he hadn't sent any money back at that time, he had no answer. He promised to ship the unit within two weeks, free of additional charges.
Three weeks later, I called back, because Blitz had not shipped the unit. He was irritated when I asked why he hadn't kept his word to ship the unit. Other orders had to be processed first, he claimed.
This kind of unproductive dialogue went on between me and Blitz for more than a month, with his twice promising to crate and ship and then—nothing. As a consumer advocate, I rarely invoke the threat of legal action; it shuts down all positive dialogue. However, sometimes it's the only way to get things done. I finally called him with an ultimatum to return your money or ship the unit—or else I'd recommend that you turn the case over to the District Attorney for Costa Mesa as a theft. In this case, the strong-arm tactics did the trick. As you know, less than a week later, your rowing machine landed on your doorstep. I hope you're enjoying it.