Protect Yourself When Buying Hair Online (My Scam Story)

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This story has been a loooooong time in the making.

It’s meant to be a cautionary tale, and not meant to scare anyone off from buying online. I own probably 30 pieces of hair, and 29 of them were bought online, with zero issues.

But sometimes things happen, like they happened to me and a few other {awesome} ladies.

I need you to be aware of what “could be”, even though chances are infinitely good this is an anomaly.

Just a warning, this is extremely long – it’s definitely the longest post I’ve ever written here. Even though I’ve gone over everything so many times, I’m sure I’m still missing a detail or two. It’s impossible to have it be 100% when there are several people involved spanning almost a year, but I’ve tried my best.

Hang with me on this crazy journey and I’ll take you through it all. I have a video below that talks about the whole thing, but if you prefer to read, I’ve provided a timeline, too.

Oh, and I’m not mentioning this seller by name here. If you want more details you can email me, and I’m happy to provide it. I understand many of you think this is crazy, but it’s my choice and I gotta stick by it.

Ready? Here goes.

In April 2016, I decided to make a human hair purchase from a hair replacement specialist in Sacremento who I’ve known for several years. She’s someone who has always been so knowledgeable and helpful in the past.

The woman I bought from is a hair replacement specialist in Sacramento, and she’s a small set up. It may just be her, or it may be her and one other person.

I’ve never been sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Good service and a great buying experience comes in all shapes and sizes.

Check out this long (!!) video about my experience. I filmed this video before sitting down to write this blog post, so the post itself goes into a bit more detail, and is likely a smidge more accurate since I was able to do some digging/research while I wrote. Flip on closed captions if you can’t play sound:

Prefer to read? Here’s the timeline:

April 2016: I placed an order for a custom Gemtress piece. The specs were: Medium brown, 8×8 base with 4×4 silk top, with a polyurethane surround (important for me since I glue one area in particular!) and lace front with bleached knots. I gave her my debit card over the phone and she emailed me a receipt. I was quoted 8-10 weeks. The cost was $716.

June 2016: I sent a Facebook message asking if the manufacturer had an ETA. About a week later I heard from her that it did not pass quality control and “something had to be corrected”.

July 2016: She still didn’t have an ETA at early/mid-month. On July 20th, I got a Facebook message that it should be shipping out within 2 weeks.

At this point, it’s already “late”, but who’s counting? I’m not…yet.

August 2016: On August 6th, I got the notification that the Gemtress hair is in the U.S. (coming from China). On August 12th, the seller receives my hair. On August 28th, she tells me it’s going to take a bit more time to do the color to get it to match the look I’m going for.

September 2016: The hair is cut/colored and about ready to be shipped to me. I ask my hair replacement specialist if the lace front is already cut back because I was nervous about cutting it. She tells me “it’s already cut back and ready to go”. I received my package mid-month.

Late September 2016: It took me a week to open the box as I was busy. While the pics look pretty good, I was slightly unhappy with the way it was cut. Not only did the piece have longish side-bangs, but it was layered in a way that made the very bottom layer pretty thin. This could be hidden by curling, which was good…but something I noticed.

Here’s what it looked like after being wet down:Sacramento Hair Loss Specialist SCAM

And after it’s been straightened (to the best of my ability, I need a new flatiron!) and curled:Gemtress Topper

On September 25th, I sent her a message via Facebook. The lace front that I ordered was folded lace, not a traditional lace front. The knots were not bleached. And there was not a poly rim. She explained that Gemtress recently changed management, and she had been having some issues with them. If I wanted, we could send her back for a remake, because “they are really good about that”.

I decided to do so because I really needed that poly rim (and the few other pesky issues corrected!) And because it had taken quite a bit longer than anticipated, my bio hair had grown out. Since they needed to remake the piece, I asked the seller to price out an additional few inches of human hair for me. The additional cost was $368. Actually, she said it was higher, but she was able to negotiate a deal.

It took about 3.5 weeks from the time I opened the box to talk through my options with her. I shipped the hair back to her on October 25th on my dime, and, not thinking, sent her the difference via PayPal. PayPal offers a few options to send money; I selected to send money to “friends and family”, therefore allowing the seller to avoid paying a fee. And thereby forgoing any purchase protection for me…although I didn’t think about it at the time.

Late October 2016: She confirms all my details, and the waiting game begins again. Around this time, or maybe a little before or a little after (I can’t remember), two of my friends order from this seller, at my referral.

I do want to note that all of the above was discussed via Facebook Messenger, and there was lots of idle chit-chat that I didn’t mention since it doesn’t pertain to the facts. But, the seller continued to be her friendly, personable, helpful self.

Late December 2016, very early January 2017: I mentioned above that I had two friends order from this seller as well. Both separately sent me an email to tell me that had tried reaching out to this seller, but had not heard back in several weeks.

I wasn’t too concerned since it was right after the holidays and I heard through the grapevine she had been ill. But, after hearing from each friend twice that they haven’t gotten a response from the seller on their pieces, I started to get concerned.

January 11, 2017: I sent a Facebook message to her asking if she had any updates.

January 16, 2017: Sent another message. I explained that my referrals are really nervous since they don’t know her like I do…so can she please reply and let me know what’s going on. I also sent her an email.

January 19, 2017: Sent another Facebook message.

January 23, 2017: Another message.

January 24, 2017: Some people in the hair community have heard from her, whereas others haven’t. Several people have checked in with her to make sure she was ok, and she’s responded hit-and-miss to some. I asked her via Messenger why she just didn’t put up an “out of office” email if she wasn’t going to be available. Or something to indicate she was taking some time off.

January 29, 2017: Sent an email. Posted on her Facebook business wall. Left another Facebook message. Called her place of business. Told her that I wanted a message back immediately or else I’d be putting in a claim with my bank, and advising my referrals to do the same.

I also reached out to a woman who I believe was doing color for her, to ask if she had any news about the hair replacement specialist.

Around this time, give or take a week, the Sacramento seller removed her hair replacement business on social media, and deactivated her phone number at her studio.

ALARM BELLS!!!

January 30, 2017: I put in a claim with my bank. The rules are unclear, at best, what the statute of limitations is. The rep tells me that “as long as we can see the charge on our end, you can fight it”. They can still see it, phew, so my claim is opened.

February 1, 2017: I try contacting Gemtress directly. I was hoping they’d be able to tell me if at least the piece had been ordered. The Business Consultant (that is the title in his signature) who wrote me back said that they’ve been trying to reach the seller, unsuccessfully. So, because I worked with the seller, they can’t help. But he does have a great recommendation of another place where I can buy some hair.

Really? My money is tied up with a non-responsive seller, so I’m certainly not going to purchase ANOTHER piece.

My friend also tries the same tactic, with a similar answer from the same guy.

Early February, 2017: My friend puts in her claim with her bank – she used a debit card as well.

I find out around this time that there are a few other ladies out in cyberspace who are waiting on hair from this Sacramento human hair seller.

Surprise, surprise, no one’s heard from her.

February 6th, 2017: I hear back that my claim is denied since “I placed the order”. Of course I did, I’m not denying that!

I dispute the result and the bank reopened my case.

Mid February, 2017: My other friend put in a claim with PayPal. I’m not sure exactly where her story drops off, but she beat PayPal’s time limit by a few days and they, after a few weeks, returned her money in full. Yea!!

February 16, 2017: A completely separate friend tries texting the seller to see if she can get some info on a piece for sale. LO AND BEHOLD, the seller responds immediately, trying to make a sale! Meanwhile, she hasn’t responded to 99% of people in months.

And, the kicker! She tells her it will only take 8-10 weeks! This is my screenshot of the image to show the date:

THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING!!

Late February, 2017: My dispute comes back as officially denied since it’s been too long for them to do anything about it. It looks like I’m out $1100+.

Crap.

Here’s where I will diverge the story a little so you can understand both conclusions. First up, my conclusion:

Mid-March: I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m not getting my money back, but have texted the Sacramento hair replacement specialist periodically to ask about the status of my hair. Of course, I’ve never gotten any response. Until the day I randomly get a PayPal refund notification from her, saying that she’s refunded me less a 25% restocking fee.

A restocking fee?

I’m ecstatic to get ANYTHING back, but can’t possibly understand how she gets to keep 25% of my money. It’s not like I got the hair and decided I didn’t like it so I returned it. This isn’t some tee shirt I got at Target (looooove Target), ya know? I’ve spent almost a year waiting for hair and months trying to track this lady down.

I texted her a few times about this, then eventually give up.

Late-March: I get (another random) PayPal notification that the 25% has been refunded. Why, I have no idea. But I’m thankful to have it!!

And now, my friend’s conclusion:

March-April, 2017 (friend): My friend keeps getting her claim deadline extended from the bank. She was just barely within the timeline for a claim (thank goodness), but the seller tries to delay the claim two times. The first time, she provides “proof of purchase” in the form of a receipt. Again, no one is disputing there was a transaction. This delays the bank by a bit. Then, she claims that she DID indeed send the hair out to my friend. The bank extends the deadline so that she can provide proof of this.

Which, of course, she can’t.

Late April, 2017 (friend): My friend gets word that her claim is FINALLY CLOSED. The bank had actually given her the money back when she put the claim in, under the provision that they’d take it right back if they sided with the seller. So now, it’s hers to keep. Yay!

(Dearest friend, I know you’ll read this, and I hope I got the dates correct. Going from memory on much of this!)

Early May (friend), 2017: My friend decides to write the executive team at Gemtress, telling them her story and explaining her frustration with the whole ordeal.

She gets a reply within a few days…and here’s where the story gets *really* interesting!

Check out the screenshot, it tells it better than I ever could:

How ’bout dem apples?

Apparently she went out of business late last year??! And continues to try to make sales with prospective customers while ignoring current ones?

Incredible!

I’m so glad this nearly year-long fiasco is behind me, and even more glad things turned out well for my friends.

Ladies, 99% of hair studios will NOT be like this. There are a ton more good people out there than bad. But, please protect yourselves. This definitely happens more with human hair than synthetic. Custom pieces can take awhile, but good communication is key through the process.

Here are some tips to help protect you from being scammed when you buy online:

Tip 1: Check Out Reviews

Gather as much intel as you can about other customers’ experiences. Look at their social media, Yelp, The Better Business Bureau, etc. to get a good grasp on others’ feedback. In my case, the reviews were all glowing, so this wasn’t helpful, unfortunately. I only found out later that others have had issues with this seller.

But, do it anyway.

Tip 2: Take Screenshots of Everything

Make sure you keep on file the exact specs you are ordering, as well as the timeline in which the hair was promised. Delays sometimes happen and that does NOT necessarily mean you are getting scammed. But, if you ever get an icky feeling in your gut that something’s gone awry, you’ll be happy you have all the details.

It’s also helpful to set the expectation up front on how often you prefer communication. If you feel most comfortable checking in every three weeks with the seller, just let them know from the get-go. It may be up to you to reach out at intervals that make sense for you, though – most sellers are busy!

Tip 3: Pick the Best Payment Choice, and Know the Terms

Make sure you select a method of payment that offers the most protection. PayPal provides, I believe, protection up to 180 days. My bank, it turns out, only provided protection for 60 or 90 days. For a custom product that can take months to receive, understand up front what your rights are as a consumer.

Phew! This has been incredibly long, but I wanted to get this story out there. It’s sad that this can be all part of this “hair thing”, but I do want to reiterate that getting scammed when you buy hair online is NOT the norm.

What do you think of all this?! Leave a comment below and share your thoughts; I’d love to hear them.

Oh, want to know about the other time I was scammed (not from a Sacramento hair replacement specialist!), but in a different way? Check out my post about Follinique Hair Growth Treatment. I’m still shaking my head at that one…

52 thoughts on “Protect Yourself When Buying Hair Online (My Scam Story)”

  1. Hi Lauren!

    27 and dealing with hair loss and thinning associated with Lupus :/ I was recently diagnosed and now on the hunt for a great topper! I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Lauren Ashtyn collection, the pieces are quite expensive but there are payment plan options that would take the initial heart-attack/anxiety away from dropping all that at once, haha. Have you dealt with this brand or know of anyone who has? I’d love to get the skinny as to whether or not it’s worth the cost or if there are comparable but more affordable options available. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing particular brands publicly, I’m happy to email. Also, I just ordered a topper from Gardeaux to get me by for now. They seem great so far but I’d like to get more info on them as well if possible 🙂 thank you so much!!!

  2. Hi Lauren,
    I’m David Schwartz, president of Hair Visions International, the makers of Gemtress. First, I want to apologize for my delay in addressing your blog and the issues you experienced. Second, I want to assure you that this is not how we do business, nor how we expect retail salons who sell Gemtress products to conduct business. I am embarrassed that you had this experience and would like to try and fix the problem.
    If you could please send me the name and any contact information you have for the studio owner you had this experience with. I’d like to help you by locating a retail salon to assist you in the future.
    Although, we do not directly sell to consumers, I’d like to offer you a comparable replacement wig completely free of charge. We are proud of our products and welcome the opportunity to reintroduce you to a more positive experience. I want to ensure you that we are providing quality products that are addressing your needs and the needs of your followers.
    Thank you for your blog, and the forum that you are providing those experience alopecia and other forms of hair loss. It is fantastic to see the supportive community you’ve built and reaffirms to me that we can always work harder to improve our processes and products to make sure we are being part of that support system that is needed by so many women like yourself.

  3. Speaking of scary online purchases, has anyone ever bought and received an order from Gorgeous Strands? I sent them a large order in March and I should be receiving it soon, but their website is down and they aren’t responding to my emails. All their reviews look fake…and now I feel stupid.

  4. Have you or anyone ordered from Light in the box? I’m new here and have been wearing toppers but not much left for them to clip onto. Looking at wigs now. Would also like to hear the best options on working out, swimming, etc…

  5. Can you email me the name of the seller please? I live near Sacramento & would like to be aware of her.
    Thank you

  6. I’m so sorry, Lauren. You got your money back and that’s all that matters. I fell prey to an Internet scam and lost $2,000.00. I can’t even prosecute as what they did was technically not a crime and they were not Americans.
    Yes, always deal with local USA only. And do use PayPal!

  7. Wow! I am sorry this happened to you and your friends and anyone else that had this happen. I find this to be very scary. I would love to buy synthetic helper hair but my hair is dark purple and they just don’t have my color anywhere. Because of this I need to get human hair and dye it to match. So far I have bought a small topper that I have dyed. I want to get a bigger piece but I am nervous about spending money I don’t have and getting messed over.

    • Ooh yes, that would be difficult (but fun!). Maybe a full synthetic wig might come in something close and you can cut it down? Gardeaux Wigs has been doing some interesting color work – maybe she could do a topper for you if you want to go the human hair route.

      • Thanks so much! I will look into Gardeaux for certain. I am nervous about cutting a wig down myself or I would do that. I used to have red hair and that was an odd color to match but the dark purple is even harder!

  8. Lauren, while I shudder at the thought of this long drawn out process for you and others, it really isn’t very helpful to those of us who are new to the helper hair scene in keeping the person and the business quiet. Your story is truthful, so there is no slander so……………….What if some of us who aren’t experienced at this get caught in her scam. And a scam is what it is. She obviously is out of business except for scamming for new clients for money on orders she has no intention of placing.

    • Janet, I have to do what feels right for me, and that’s to not put her name/business in my post. However, you may have missed where I said I’m happy to share privately to anyone who contacts me. If someone finds this post/video and is considering a purchase in Sacramento, I’m sure they’ll reach out. Thanks for your feedback!

  9. This is a nightmare. I’m wondering why you are protecting this person’s privacy instead of just going ahead and publishing her name/business? I don’t mean that to sound accusatory, if it does! I’m genuinely confused by this industry and how people like this manage to stay hidden and protected even when they are blatant criminals.

    I had a terrible experience with an online purchase too (from Featherlite Wigs) and better believe I shared my story – with names! – far and wide in the hair community. Some people didn’t like it. Some people told me to stop. And I just kept on sharing anyway. No way was I going to let someone else go through what I went through if I could prevent it. I wrote a whole blog dedicated to the fight so others could follow along and copy the steps to get their money back. (Congrats on getting yours back, by the way!)

    Thanks so much for sharing your story here! It’s a doozy!!

    PS: Will you please email me the name of the seller you are talking about? I think I know who it is, but I want to make sure I avoid the right person!! 😀

    • Wow, that’s crazy! I didn’t name names because I want this post to stay up (it is all factual, so I suppose I have nothing to worry about). That, and there are some in the hair community who continue to defend this vendor while speaking ill about anyone with anything contrary to say…so this allows me to speak my peace without naming a name, and therefore the “pro-scammy-vendor-peeps” can’t flood this post with how great of a vendor she is. Because…who are we talking about, anyways? 🙂

      If you’d like the name, please feel free to email me at lauren at cornerofhopeandmane.com.

  10. Makes me sick what some of you have had happen. I had a custom piece made by a well known name hair replacement company. Paid through the nose for a piece of junk, hardly wearable but I struggled with the damned thing anyway for a while. I will stick with synthetic wigs now, just to afraid of getting scammed again.

  11. Glad you got it all resolved after all. I am sorry you have to go through this. I have been treated very poorly by this woman as well. A year ago, I sent her two of my human hair wigs to be colored. These were my first two human hair wigs and I was very new to everything. Not only she made one darker while I asked her to lighten it, but unfortunately, she significantly discolored the lace on both of the wigs and probably attempting to hide it, she cut the lace fronts on both wigs without my permission. One of the laces she cut so poorly, that is not wearable for me, it lifts up whenever I would move the hair and the edge is so sharp, that is hurts my skin. Both laces are much darker and quite visible as I have a very light skin. I contacted her immediately and she fully denied cutting the lace which was very upsetting. I also placed an order with her for a custom made wig, so I did not want to jeopardize that order and just left it alone. Fortunately, the custom piece came, not fully made to my specifications, but close enough, but she never offered to fix the other two wigs for me and I felt I had no way to make her to do so. I wish I filed a claim then, but by the time I realized she was not going to fix this, it was too late. It is really hard to go through such disappointing and stressful experiences on top of dealing with hairloss/medical issues and it is an absolute shame that she has treated us this way.

    • Hana, I am so sorry. It is SO frustrating. We’re so desperate for our hair and for it to be made correctly (since it’s such a THING) with us, that these vendors seem to have the upper hand. And that’s awful that she cut the lace back…and everything else, of course.

  12. I know exactly who you are talking about and although I did get my piece eventually (it took quite a bit of work and pleading) I know I way over-paid and I’m not even sure it’s what I ordered. I don’t wear it – $1800 gone! And I honestly can’t imagine going through the process again I was so turned off. Blah.

    • Well, she does have a storefront, too…and several of her local customers were also looking for her (as evident on her business Facebook page). I get where you are coming from, though.

  13. I’m new to this arena. I found your web site a few months ago when searching for options and info for thinning hair. So glad I found you:)
    I have not bought hair online, and am a bit leery about it. Can you offer the names of the most reputable sites you’ve used that are trustworthy and have good customer service?
    Thank you for all you to help all of us! xo

    • Oh, Jennifer, there are SO many! For synthetic, check out Cysterwigs.com, Voguewigs.com, Wigs.com, Galleryofwigs.com (to name a few). For human hair, Joli Cameleon, Tressmerize, Gardeaux Wigs, Fortune Wigs, RPGShow…so many there, too. 🙂

      • Yes, I like them, too! Cysterwigs helped me SO MUCH over a few days with my Longing for Long a few months ago, so I have to give them props. But, I have had good service at NBW, too. Good suggestion.

  14. I had been wondering what was going on with her. I know some people weee truly holding out hope with her
    So ridiculous!

    • I know, Kim. It will forever be mind-boggling to me how some even defended this behavior. Not apples to apples, but these are the same people who if their Amazon shipment is late would be raising hell with customer service…not sure why we can’t hold hair vendors to similar standards. Not everything can be controlled with custom orders, but good communication goes SO FAR.

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