The Halo Boutique Clothing Co Facebook page has over 11,000 likes and says it's based in Auckland, New Zealand.
It advertises clothing to younger women, offering popular styles at a much bigger discount than other sites offer.
Netsafe operations manager Lee Chisholm says the organisation has fielded a handful of complaints about the site, with some consumers losing hundreds of dollars.
However, there has also been reports of customers’ orders from the site taking a long time but arriving eventually.
The domain www.halo-boutique.com was registered on 12 October to a host in Canada.
The New Zealand version, www.haloboutique.co.nz, was registered on 8 October from Dubai through a Queensland, Australian registrant. The website is no longer working.
Chisolm says just because a domain sounds like it’s from New Zealand doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
“It’s important for people to know that co.nz doesn’t mean it’s a New Zealand registered website. Anyone anywhere in the world can register a website as co.nz,” she says.
One News reports the domain name is registered under the name “Charlotte Wilson” and with a Palmerston North address.
A search for fashion businesses in New Zealand named Halo on the Companies Office found one company called Halo Clothing Limited, which was created on 16 June 2014 by Stephen Fletcher and Shaun Roelofsz from Levin.
The company hasn’t registered a website, phone or email, and is overdue to file an annual return.
To add to the confusion, the Halo Boutique Facebook page uses both a dollar sign and a pound sign on product posts, making it unclear where the website is based or what currency it’s using.
Another red flag for the site’s legitimacy is photos of products which seem to have been taken from other sites, as seen in the below comparison with bikini label Triangl’s Poppy Flamingo Fling bikini, which retails for AU$97.
The same bikini and photo is pictured on Halo Boutique’s site for $31, with the currency not clear. The boutique says on the listing standard Australian/New Zealand sizes are used.
Frustrated shoppers are also reporting that the company has been deleting any negative comments from its Facebook page in response to the criticism.
Fashion websites using Facebook to trick customers is nothing new.
Last year, New Zealanders lost $8 million in online scams and frauds. This number included $400,000 lost by consumers on websites, buy and sell pages and online auctions.
The Observer reports that clothes from other popular women’s fashion sites like Tobi, SheIn, Rose Gal and ROMWE hardly ever arrive when customers order them, and the sites offer refunds only if the customer removes negative online reviews.
Some of the common complaints for these sites include:
- The clothes take months to come (if they ever do).
- The sizes are completely off.
- The clothes are too thin, too sheer, cheaply made, are of overall “awful” quality and often fall apart.
- Most items are final sale.
- It’s not worth attempting to return (return shipping costs half the cost of the garment), but if you do, it takes months to get refunds (if you ever do).
- They’re deceitful with nearly non-existent customer service, and they’ve been widely suspected of review manipulation.
Customers have taken to online review websites and even YouTube to voice their frustration with the companies.
Chisolm says one trick to check the background of sellers and thoroughly research websites before buying off them.
She says googling the business’ name with the word “scam and “review” after it can help shoppers find out whether others have been saying about the site.
Companies can also be looked up in the domain register to verify if they exist, she says.
Other tips for safe online shopping by Consumer Affairs include:
- It’s safer to pay by credit card than doing a bank transfer, as if things go wrong, the shopper may be able to get a chargeback.
- Check for sites that don’t include contact details, it as that sends off warning signals (case in point: Halo Boutique doesn’t have any contact details listed.)
- Check that payment pages look secure by looking for a padlock symbol and checking the website address begins with ‘https’.