Complaints pile up over shady holiday sites

Holiday shopping online can be tricky business. And shopping for holiday trees, ornaments and decorations online can be trickier still.

Consumer complaint sites, such as PissedConsumer.com and SiteJabber.com, have been collecting frustrating tales of unfilled orders, merchandise that's sub-par and products that don't resemble what was purchased.

Christmas is big business, and shady sites want their part of it, too.

The U.S. imported $1 billion worth of artificial Christmas trees and decorations from China alone between January and September, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not all of that inventory ends up at your local Target (TGT) or Walmart (WMT), and not all of it is something you'd be happy to display in your home.

However, it can all look good online when a site is showing you a product that's different from what it has in stock. And a slick-looking website decked out for the season doesn't mean the seller is legit.

Jeremy Gin, co-founder of SiteJabber, warned consumers to check out any site before doing business with it. See if the site has any independent reviews from consumers (not on-site testimonials), and look for complaints to see how they were handled.

Many of the shady Christmas decoration sites have no track record at all or, if they do, reviews show patterns of not being responsive to consumer complaints.

In addition to looking up the history and legitimacy of a site, particularly holiday-oriented sites, Gin said to be sure to check on the return policy. Consumers have reported issues getting refunds with some sites, he said, while other sites have charged restocking fees when they do take back items.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.