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Ordering face masks and other COVID protection online leaves many consumers empty-handed

The FTC logged more than 34,000 e-commerce gripes in April and May. More than 18,000 of those were about items that the shopper never received.

Ordering face masks and other COVID protection online leaves many consumers empty-handed
[Photos: rawpixel (mask) (shield) (glove)]

With Americans shopping online as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the Federal Trade Commission is handling a record number of complaints. Chief among them are complaints about face masks that were ordered but never delivered.

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In April and May, the FTC logged more than 34,000 e-commerce gripes, and more than 18,000 of those were about items that the shopper never received. Besides face masks, the other unfulfilled orders were also primarily for COVID-related purchases, such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, thermometers, and gloves, according to data the FTC released recently.

This is a record number of complaints about unreceived online merchandise; the number of cases in May was close to twice as many as what the FTC received in December, which is peak holiday shopping time.

Christine Wickham was excited to find reusable masks with a filter pocket and nose wire, so she ordered eight of them for her husband who has to go to work every day at a TV news channel. When the $80 order didn’t arrive at her Tampa, Florida, home after a week had gone by, the freelance graphic designer emailed to ask for an ETA. After several days, she got a reply that they were being overnighted and would arrive the next day. The masks didn’t come that day ether, and a second email query resulted in another promise to overnight them. Then, the mask maker stopped replying.

“It’s kind of important to have masks,” Wickham says. “I know everyone’s busy and making sacrifices and doing the best they can, because it’s bananas right now . . . The dishonesty really irritated me. Don’t tell me you will ship them, if you’re not going to.”

Last week, the FTC said it filed a lawsuit against three online merchants that failed to deliver masks and other items in a timely manner after promising consumers they could do so.

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