Sometimes the online store that seems to have just what you're looking for isn't what it seems.
Several otherwise savvy service members — among them a major and a master sergeant — say they learned that lesson recently after trying to purchase uniform items from the private company Armed Forces Military Clothing Sales Store of Jamaica, N.Y.
Many say the company simply does not respond to complaints about late or undelivered orders.
Despite its official-sounding name, the company, also known as Armed Forces MCSS, is not part of the government.
Air Force Maj. Dwight Minnick is among the dissatisfied customers. He said he ordered $457 in uniform items in early March and was told they were in stock and could be delivered by April 1.
When he hadn't received his order by April 9, he called to cancel and, he said, was told that could only be done online. However, when he tried, the system failed to cancel the order. So he canceled the charge with his credit card company instead.
The uniforms eventually arrived, he said — the week of May 5, more than a month late, while Minnick was on temporary duty. Shortly after he called FedEx on May 14 to find out how to return them, however, he received a call from Armed Forces MCSS.
"He threatened to call 911 and have me arrested," Minnick said, adding that the employee would not give his name. "He told me there was a $10,000 fine. He said he had done this to two other people, but he wouldn't give me any other information."
Minnick said he complained to his base inspector general, who has since briefed other airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., about the company.
"I'm concerned about the young airman or soldier who gives in to these bullying tactics," he said.
Leslie Fields, chief financial officer at Armed Forces MCSS, acknowledged problems.
"We do have some dissatisfied customers," he said. "I send out our sincerest apologies to these people."
He acknowledged "bad attitudes" in customer service, and promised: "I intend to fix the problems."
He also said he had thousands of satisfied customers and that his company is pursuing legal action against nine people whom he says accepted orders and then canceled payment through their credit card companies.
Comments from interviews with service members and postings on the consumer bulletin board http://www.complaintsboard.com%20">http://www.complaintsboard.com allege the company threatened to file IG complaints and take legal action against service members who tried to cancel orders.
Most complaints are from airmen because of the Air Force's new airman battle uniform, which has been in short supply everywhere. Fields said the company has been working closely with vendors to try to get the uniforms they need in stock.
Missouri Air National Guard Master Sgt. Miles Spainhower said he used his credit card to place a $275 order with Armed Forces MCSS. He said he never received it and got only $225 back when he canceled the order.
He filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which forwarded it to the company for response. Spainhower said Armed Forces MCSS mailed him back a copy of his complaint, with no response — but addressed the envelope to "Miles ‘Crybaby' Spainhower." Fields said he is looking into that.
The New York Better Business Bureau has rated Armed Forces MCSS as "unsatisfactory" for its complaint response record, said Tony Barbera, manager of the New York BBB's information and investigations department.
Fields said his company ceased working with the New York BBB after it refused to remove what Fields called "erroneous" information from its Web site. He said his company has filed a complaint about the BBB with the New York attorney general.
Here are some things to consider when buying online:
• Buy with a credit card; you have more protections.
• Check the terms and conditions before buying. Unless you agree to a longer time frame, the company must ship within 30 days, or you have the right to cancel, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
• If you have concerns about a company, contact your base legal assistance office.