Carroll County residents have found a sneaky new scam tactic used on electronics sold at Walmart this holiday season, leaving them with boxes of sand or stuffing instead of expensive gifts.
One resident, Teresa Gostomski of Marriottsville, opened a shrink-wrapped box Christmas morning to find a bag of sand when her daughters Kelly and Claire gifted her a Google Home Hub purchased from the Ellicott City Walmart last week.
“I didn’t even open it right away,” Gostomski told the Times. “It was later that evening, I asked my husband, ‘Can you get me a knife so I could slit open the plastic,’ which I did.
“Honestly, I moved [the bag of sand] out of the way and said, ‘What? It’s hidden very well,’ then realized, ‘Oh my gosh, [the sand bag] is the only thing in there,’” she said. “My daughter was sitting with me, she was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”
Gostomski said her daughters purchased the device on Dec. 15 and that when she brought it back to Walmart on Dec. 26, staff said it was the first time they had seen anything like it.
“They said, ‘Uh, this is actually new to us,’ ” she said. “I don’t know if Kelly was the first one to bring a product back to them or that was a person who got it had never seen it before.
“But Walmart was generous,” Gostomski said. “Kelly just returned it and didn’t get a new one yet. She said, ‘I'm just going to wait, Mom, and get it right from Google.’ ”
And Gostomski isn’t the only one who has dealt with this problem.
Eldersburg resident Janet Bischoff made a post in the same Facebook group a week earlier, on Dec. 17, when upon opening a shrink-wrapped Nest doorbell she found a nest of sandpaper instead.
“It looked brand new,” she said of the packaging. “I went to buy it at Walmart in Eldersburg. It was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, so it was on sale, and they only had one left. It was in the locked-up cabinet. There was no reason for me to believe it wasn’t [in] there.”
When she got home, she didn’t open it up until her electrician came to install it — and that’s when both found the device was missing.
“I said. ‘I wonder why they wrapped this up with sandpaper,’” Bischoff said, “and I thought, wait a minute, where’s the doorbell? I could not believe I’d been duped like this.”
She said she didn’t think Walmart would believe her, but that she called the store immediately because she was “flabbergasted.”
“The girl on the other end was like, ‘Oh I believe you. Bring it in,’” Bischoff said. “She didn’t even seem to question it. I said, ‘Has it happened before?’ She said she could only say she’s never seen it before.”
Bischoff’s speculation is that someone either purchased the product, replaced it with the sandpaper, shrink-wrapped it, and returned it — or it was an employee with access to shrink-wrapping technology.
“It is so professionally done,” said Bischoff, “and it worries me [if] whoever does it gets so good and Walmart writes it off and it becomes a major problem — if you have that type of a criminal mind and work so closely to deceive people like that.
“I can promise you, if I buy any electronics I'm going to open the box in front of the sales person,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen again; it was such a bizarre experience.”
Walmart spokesperson Payton McCormick told the Times Friday that this was the first time media relations had heard of electronics being replaced with sand products but that an investigation would be conducted.
“I couldn’t speculate who did this, if they replaced it with sand bags, or how they did that,” he said.
“If any customer would run into an issue like this, they’re encouraged to go to the local store they purchased it from and take it to the customer service counter.” McCormick said.