Debi Thieman paid about $7 for what she thought was a “trial” container of a beauty cream, DermaFil, advertised on Facebook. A month later, DermaFil debited her bank account for an extra $89.87. (Photo: Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader)
For Springfield resident Debi Thieman, a one-ounce pot of DermaFil beauty cream turned out to be a derma-fail — after an online vendor selling the stuff started clawing extra money out of her bank account a month after she made a payment to the company.
“It’s supposed to improve your skin,” Thieman, 63, told the News-Leader on Wednesday. “It’s supposed to be like a magic formula.”
But, she said, DermaFil doesn’t work any better than the skin creams she typically buys from Walmart.
She bought the DermaFil product because it was advertised on Facebook, Thieman said. In August she willingly paid two bank charges, one for $6.87, one for 21 cents, for what she thought was a “trial” container of DermaFil. But a month later, the company charged her $89.87.
She wasn’t expecting the much larger charge and called the company to ask for a refund. Thieman says a customer service rep told her the company had attempted to charge her bank account three times, but was only able to access her money after her monthly Social Security check had deposited. With some persistence, Thieman was able to obtain a $70 refund, which she was told was only a “courtesy.”
On Wednesday, the News-Leader called the same customer service toll-free number that Thieman had used.
“Actually it’s a 30-day supply, not a free trial,” said a customer-service worker answering the line. He confirmed that Thieman’s monthly subscription to DermaFil had been canceled. The News-Leader repeatedly asked whether Thieman would get the remainder of the charge refunded to her bank account.
“Actually sir, we can’t do that,” the worker told a reporter.
Thieman said she often shops online. The pandemic has adjusted her habits, she said. She hasn’t been working and survives on her Social Security income as she cares for her 38-year-old son, who lives with her.
Years ago, her son was severely injured in an accident, she said, and afterward he was prescribed opioids for pain relief. Now he has numerous physical and mental health problems. Thieman said she now fears that if she went back to her old job, she’d bring home COVID-19 to her son. She said she worries about the people she sees riding the bus system who don’t wear masks.
“I want to go to work back so bad,” Thieman said. She said she had been a Walmart worker for two years and also worked through a temp agency.
“It’s like a choice of either living in Brokesville or taking the chance of something happening to my son,” she said.
So, “Brokesville” it is. Due to the pandemic and her financial straits, Thieman said she mainly shops through Walmart’s delivery service, watching her pennies.
She recently reported her ordeal to the local office of the Better Business Bureau.
As it turns out, Thieman isn’t alone, said Stephanie Garland, director of the BBB’s office in Springfield.
“It is such a slippery scam, we released a ‘fake trial’ study on it instead of on DermaFil specifically, because of how often these scammers change their business names,” Garland said. “It’s the exact same thing, over and over again.”
DermaFil now appears to go under the Visage Pur brand, according to websites urging customers to take advantage of limited-time trial offers. The Visage Pur website was set up about 13 weeks ago, according to online domain name registry records.
“Right now we are seeing a lot of scams online due to so many people spending so much time at home during the COVID pandemic,” Garland said. People have more time on their hands, and those facing family crises or job layoffs may be especially vulnerable.
“When they’re down, they shop and it makes them happier,” Garland said.
Garland noted that products advertised on Facebook do not carry some sort of guarantee that the underlying business is an ethical one. The behemoth social platform has been the subject of 9,222 Better Business Bureau complaints closed out over the past three years, she said, and BBB gives Facebook a D-minus rating.
“Just remember anytime you see an ad on Facebook,” Garland said, “that doesn’t mean Facebook has verified the organization or done a background check. Facebook is not vetting the company for you, you need to vet the company.”
Sources like the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission advise consumers to research a company and its offers before signing up and to monitor your bank and credit accounts for strange charges, among other tips.
Gregory Holman is the investigative reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to [email protected] and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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