Red Flag | Businesses that change names to hide from complaints

What’s in a name?

Maybe a lot, especially when it comes to best business practices.

If a company has a history of consumer complaints and suddenly changes its name to something different, that’s a red flag to Karen Straughn, an assistant attorney general in Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office and director of the office’s Mediation Unit.

“It’s something we see in particularly bad businesses,” Straughn said. “We don’t deal with it a lot unless the business is particularly problematic.”

Gansler’s office filed a lawsuit against last week against Sports55 , a Millersville-based sports uniform company.

Or is it Teamuniforms123 LLC?

Or maybe Dyesubsports LLC?

The AG’s suit names all three, because the business changed its name several times. Investigators believe that was part of its ploy to dupe customers.

“They were doing it while we were working on the case,” Straughn said.

TUNE IN THURSDAY FOR A LOOK AT THE SHADY PRACTICE OF BUSINESSES CHANGING NAMES ON ABC2 IN FOCUS AT 6.

After Sports55 racked up numerous complaints with the AG’s office and the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland last summer, it changed its name to TeamUniforms123 and said it was changing its management, too.

But the complaints kept rolling in.

Jody Thomas, a spokeswoman for the BBB, said the organization doesn’t often see name changes from brick-and-mortar businesses.

“We see it quite frequently with online-only businesses,” Thomas said.

When Sports55 changed its name to Teamuniforms123, it also changed its registration with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, leading customers to believe it was indeed a new business, Thomas said. But BBB investigators discovered a family connection between the alleged new management and the old management, and were able to figure out it was the same company. 

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Straughn said the office dealt with a case several years ago with the company BlueHippo Funding LLC, which sold computers to customers with no credit or bad credit.

The company arranged payment plans with customers and told them they’d receive their machines after they’d made a certain number of payments on time. Many times, the customers never got the computer, Straughn said.

Or if they did, the computer was several years old.

BlueHippo also promised customers additional merchandise that ended up never arriving, or arriving in outdated condition, Straughn said.

The AG’s office reached a settlement with the company in 2007, but it surfaced in other states, including Virginia, as BlueHippo Capital.

Straughn said investigators dealt with a similar case involving the now-defunct Around the Clock Locksmiths from Pasadena, which offered several other services under different names. An Anne Arundel County judge issued an injunction against the owner in 2010, prohibiting the owner from giving inaccurate estimates for work costs and charging excessive fees.

If a business that’s under investigation for dishonest practices changes its name without the AG’s knowledge, that’s a concern, Straughn said.                                                 

“If they’re doing the right thing, they would be contacting our office and dealing with their prior problems,” Straughn said.

Typically, however, when a business has a history of consumer complaints and is trying to do the right thing, they won’t change their name.

“I’ve been here six years, and I cannot thing of one time that’s happened,” Straughn said.

Customers who believe they are the victims of shady business practices can call the AG’s Consumer Protection Division from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at 410-528-8662. They can also file complaints online at www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer.

The BBB also takes complaints online at www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started.

Thomas also encourages customers to do their research before buying from a business, especially if it’s out-of-state. The BBB got complaints about Sports55 from customers in about 20 states, she said, adding plenty of former customers had complained in online forums about the business.

“Look at the recommendations and the BBB ratings,” she said. “And consider how long a company has been in business. You might want to go with a more established company.”


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