It's a jungle out there: Customers growl about BlueHippo.com

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Maybe it's a fluke. Maybe it's a few (thousand) disgruntled people across the country who have managed to catch the attention of the media. But maybe there's something there.

BlueHippo.com is an online retail store that specializes in selling computers and plasma TVs to people with bad credit. As it says on its website, "BlueHippo was founded in 2003 to provide an effective alternative for people with limited financing options due to less than perfect credit or no credit at all."

The web site looks professional and friendly. I can't blame anyone for trusting the people there, and I'm sure there have been some customers over the years -- maybe a lot of them -- who have been very pleased with the service BlueHippo.com provides.

But. (You knew a "but" was coming.)
In the past few weeks, a lot of disgruntled people have surfaced, complaining that the site is taking but not giving. As in, they're taking money from consumers' bank accounts but not delivering the computers that have been promised.

And since there has been quite a bit of customer dissatisfaction for several years now, I thought I'd mention it here, in case anyone reading this has bad credit and has been thinking about buying a computer through BlueHippo. You may want to think a little harder.

I have called BlueHippo, incidentally, and left a voice mail, explaining about the blog posting I'm writing and inviting them to drop me a line or send an email. Granted, it's not quite 24 hours later as I write this, but no reply yet.

Anyway, what got my attention was the lengthy story that one man wrote at a consumer blog run by the Hartford Courant, the paper in Hartford, Connecticut. The man starts off, saying:

My name is Leslie, and I have been made a fool of.

I have really poor credit but needed a pc for my family. BlueHippo seemed like the way to go. I signed up, made all my payments (totaling $853.85) and still have not received my computer. I have been calling them every other day only to be put on hold for approximately 45 minutes or more.


Meanwhile, the Toledo television station WTOL Channel 11 has a story about BlueHippo, saying, "Many Toledoans have ordered from Blue Hippo, but never received their items." They then proceed to name two customers who paid for items that they haven't received.

And Channel 6 WPVI in Philadelphia recently ran a story about BlueHippo. They quoted someone from the Better Business Bureau who said that in the past year BlueHippo has had 1,500 complaints. The station interviewed a woman who was going to have her bank account debited for $34.99 for 52 weeks and was supposed to receive her computer after the 13th payment, but she still hasn't received her computer, despite it being a month after the promised delivery date. The station also noted that they first ran a negative story about the computer site five years ago.

And, indeed, since 2003, the company has been the target of several class-action lawsuits. Last year, they were told that they would have to pay up to $5 million in consumer refunds as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. Well, see, that's why they can't ship the computers to customers. They're too busy paying all of these fines for not sending the computers to customers.

OK, sorry, that's not really funny -- not to the people who are waiting for their PCs and TVs, anyway.

If anyone wants to buy a computer or TV and has bad credit, really, the best way to go is to set up a bank account separate from your other accounts -- and funnel the money every week into that, until you feel you have enough to make your purchase. Or try and find a reputable, trusted company like Kmart (which, granted, isn't known for its vast computer selection, though they do have desktops and laptops) and enter its layaway program. You won't get your computer until it's completely paid for, but you will get your computer.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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