5 On Your Side

Late-night ads for computers don't offer a deal

Posted July 9, 2009 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2009 7:51 p.m. EDT

— Blue Hippo's late-night ads pitch affordable, weekly payments for computers and TVs. But thousands of complaints nationwide raise questions about what buyers really get from the electronics financing company.

Linda Baldwin, of Raleigh, decided to buy her first computer in March 2008.

"I really don't know much about the computer," she said. "So I wanted to learn."

Baldwin saw a Blue Hippo commercial offering a supposed deal: a laptop, printer and digital camera for $99 down, then bi-weekly payments of $69.98. That totaled $1,918 before a $300 rebate.

Baldwin agreed to buy a computer on layaway. Blue Hippo drafted the payments from her checking account. A year later, she paid it off as agreed, then waited for her computer to arrive in the mail.

"I kept calling them, and they told me it would be coming soon," she said. "And I kept looking, and it never came."

Baldwin is one of at least 25 people who have complained to Five on Your Side and one of nearly 3,800 who have complained to the Better Business Bureau about Blue Hippo. The BBB gave the company an "F" rating.

Two years ago, Maryland's attorney general accused Blue Hippo of "unfair and deceptive trade practices" for selling computers for "two or three times their retail price."

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission charged that Blue Hippo violated the agency's mail order rule. The company agreed to pay millions to refund customers.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office has received more than 120 complaints.

"We're investigating this company, because clearly, there are problems out there," Cooper said. "If we determine at the end of the investigation that this company needs to be prevented from doing business in North Carolina, then we'll ask the judge to do that."

After repeated calls to Blue Hippo, a sales supervisor promised that someone would call Baldwin that day and that "everything will be fine, don't worry."

No one ever called, but Baldwin finally got her computer. She still hasn't gotten the printer, camera or $300 rebate.

"If it hadn't been for you guys, I never would have received it," she said. "It wasn't easy, but thank God I got it."

The bottom line: There are better ways to buy a computer. You get better protection dealing with a brick-and-mortar store.

Cooper wants to hear from consumers who have had similar experiences. To report file a complaint with the Attorney's General Office, call 1-877-566-7226 or 919-716-6000.