4 Investigates: Questionable tactics at a Santa Fe shop
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You know the saying, beauty is pain? More like pricey. A tourist visiting Santa Fe said she spent thousands of dollars on beauty products she didn’t want.
The shops around the bustling Santa Fe Plaza are part of the city’s draw. On one stretch of West San Francisco Street salesmen and women are eagerly waiting right outside business doors.
“Have you tried our samples, would you like one? Are you from here? Or where?” said an employee standing outside one of the shops.
They’re looking for their next customer.
“There’s some activity in this business that drew our attention,” said Brian Baca, president of the Better Business Bureau serving New Mexico and Southwest Colorado.
After what happened there, a woman from California didn’t want us to share her name.
“I’m a huge fan of the art culture in Santa Fe,” she said.
She went to Santa Fe to celebrate her 40th birthday. A corner shop called Urban Calm was supposed to be a quick stop.
But that’s where she said she maxed out her credit cards, spending close to $10,000 on creams and red light therapy products she didn’t really want.
The receipt said no refunds. Not only that, but the store will only do exchanges within 14 days.
“Every time I said I had to go, she said, ‘well, just wait one second,’ she had an answer for everything. For some reason, I just wanted to make her happy,” said the woman.
“At first glance, you’re like, well there was nothing illegal, even though it might be immoral the principles are wrong,” said Jerry Archuleta, a Santa Fe attorney.
Archuleta said he represented a man with a similar story just last year.
“They actually put him in one of their cars and drove him to the bank because he had exceeded his credit card ability and they wanted a check,” said Archuleta.
He said his client is autistic. He believes the store took advantage of the fact he didn’t like confrontation. His client ended up spending $60,000 in all. Archuleta helped him get all but $1,500 of that back, signing an agreement with the owner of the store.
Online reviews reveal similar experiences. The BBB gave an ‘F’ rating to the business, which reportedly goes by a number of different names, including Universal Skin.
“We pretty much look at a pattern of pressurized sales from them and then not being able to refund,” said Baca.
Baca said they just got another complaint — six since 2019.
“An 82-year-old lady from Portland, Oregon, convinced to buy $10,000 worth of this skin product,” Baca said about the most recent complaint submitted to the BBB. “Her credit card was maxed out to the limits, they convinced her to use another credit card to fulfill the purchase.”
Archuleta said he’s received more than a dozen phone calls about that same business in roughly the past year.
“I don’t necessarily say that nothing can be done I just think nothing has been done,” said Archuleta.
Brian McMath is the division director of the Consumer and Environmental Protection Division at the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General.
KOB 4 asked, when does it cross the line between being good at sales and breaking consumer protection laws?
“Every case is going to be different, and every set of facts is going to be different,” said McMath.
The AG’s office has fielded some similar complaints about this business, some alleging pushy and aggressive sales tactics. In two cases, they helped get back about $16,000 dollars.
But high-pressure selling doesn’t necessarily mean the business is doing anything illegal and McMath said shoppers can protect themselves.
“What consumers really need to know before they go into these transactions is to know where that boundary is for them,” he said.
There are red flags highlighted in the state’s Unfair Practices Act. Here is some of what the law prohibits.
“Being less than forthcoming about the price of your product is generally a violation. Telling someone they are buying something then selling them something different is a violation typically,” said McMath.
KOB 4 sent in our own secret shopper to see what it was like at Urban Calm. Our shopper asked about the prices and services. She left without buying anything. She told us she did not feel pressured at all.
KOB 4 called the business to ask about what other what other shoppers claim they’ve experienced. No one at the store wanted to talk to us.
For the AG’s consumer protection division, even if it doesn’t end up being illegal, a complaint helps give them a better idea of what’s happening in our state.
“We only know what we know. These complaints are a very important tool that we use in order to determine where bad actions are happening and how to address them,” said McMath.
And, if necessary, who to warn.
KOB 4 asked the tourist from California what made her hand her card over.
“Absolutely no idea. I just remembered wanting to because she had answered everything that I had, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It’s not like me,” she said.
Like others before her, the shopper we spoke with said she plans to file a complaint with the AG’s office.