hhgregg, Radio Shack and now Payless.
They’re just some of the retailers who filed bankruptcy this past year. It’s not just bad for business in Northeast Ohio, but it can mean big problems for the people who shop there.
What do you do when a business goes belly-up and they still have your money, goods or services?
WKYC Consumer Investigator Danielle Serino tells us how to protect ourselves.
It was the Facebook post heard round the internet.
Josh Haladyna, of Kirtland, wrote on Facebook that he and his pregnant wife were cheated out of $3,000 in appliances they bought from hhgregg for the new home they were remodeling.
"They didn't have any of the appliances. They said they were discontinued, and that ours were gone from the warehouse. They were basically sold to someone else," says Haladyna.
hhgregg had filed for bankruptcy a week earlier and Haladyna says the general manager told him the company hadn't paid its vendors, so they refused to send any more products.
But after more than 75,000 shares on Facebook and offers of help from the media, it wasn't new appliances he got, but a full refund from the company.
"I didn't understand the power of social media...how everyone had each other's backs,” he said.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease," says Dworken & Bernstein bankruptcy attorney Howard Rabb. He agrees social media is often a great way to go, but adds that, whatever you do, you have to act fast.
"If the store is still open, get over to the store, the closest store to you and see if you can get action," Rabb said.
When it comes to warranties, manufacturer or third-party warranties are sometimes honored.
If it's the retailer’s own warranty, ask for a refund, since you may not be able to rely on it,. Or try to get a partial refund on the product price.
"Maybe you can get 10 percent off, 20 percent off, some amount of money so at least it pays for it to some extent,” Rabb says.
But if the store is closed, you're probably out of luck.
If you have gift cards, what happens depends on the bankruptcy judge.
For example, when gadgets company Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy, consumers could cash in their cards, but only if purchases were twice the card's value.
"Try to find some way to dump the card," Rabb says. "If it's still open in another state, go online. Maybe somebody's buying. There is a market."
If you left a payment and the store's closed, you have to file a proof of claim with the Bankruptcy Court.
But know that Bankruptcy Court is like a pyramid...with the secure creditors, like banks on top and unsecured creditors like customers on the bottom. The ones at the bottom get paid last.
You could also go to small claims court for any of the above, because Rabb says the company probably won't hire a lawyer to fight it.
“So what you'll do is possibly get a default judgement, and you can file a claim in Bankruptcy Court, or maybe they'll answer because you have a judgement now,” he adds.
If all else fails, do what Josh Haladyna said he would do if the store didn't come through: "Just stand at the door and tell people to walk away, they are stealing your money. Don't do it."
These scenarios are one reason why it’s best to pay with a credit card, not a debit card…and I hate to say it…not cash. Because they don’t offer any protections.
With a credit card, you can dispute the charges. And if you’re dealing with a business whose doors are closed and they have your merchandise, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau. They often mediate those cases.
Better Business Bureau
Ohio Attorney General