Misc articles about problems with Steve Brown’s companies

Miscellaneous articles about Steve Brown’s companies and the complaints and legal actions against them:

The Bergen County Record

August 17, 1986



By The Record

In late January, I received a letter saying I won one of four prizes in a sweepstakes, either a 19-inch Sony TV, RCA VCR, Tamiz Emerald, or Cuisinart Food Processor. The ad said, “Although you are not obligated to request any minimum number of perfumes in order to claim your sweepstakes prize, we hope that as a prizewinner you will cooperate by requesting one, two… even up to five perfumes.”

So I ordered one bottle of their version of Giorgio. I sent a check for $ 12.95, $ 9.95 for the perfume, plus $ 3 for shipping, handling, and insurance, to Carter & Van Peel Ltd. in Hicksville, N.Y.

They said that in addition to the main prize, I had won two other gifts an 18-inch After Five pearl necklace and a diamond solitaire dinner ring. My check was cashed, but I have not received my perfume and prizes.

M. B., Teaneck.


Action Line wrote to Carter & Van Peel in June and they told us that they had “reshipped” your merchandise in early May. In July, you finally received your perfume, pearls, ring, and special prize, the “tamiz emerald.”

Your experience is strikingly similar to many others that consumers have reported to the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs.

Many said they’ve received notification that they’ve won a sweepstakes prize from a category “indicated with a red X.” They have then had trouble receiving the merchandise and prize, and when the prize eventually comes, it invariably turns out to be a pellet-sized emerald.

Although your emerald came with a certificate of authenticity, you told us that the emerald was so small that you almost didn’t notice it when you opened the package. In fact, C.R. Beesley, the president of the American Gemological Laboratories in New York City, says the stones that Carter & Van Peel sells and awards are “garbage.”

The laboratory, which provides documentation on stones, has done evaluations for the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission, and Consumer Reports magazine. Beesley said that the Carter & Van Peel emeralds he’s examined have been opaque and not cut straight, with a poor finish, and flecks of black throughout.

By contrast, he explained, in order to be of value, emeralds should have high green color and transparency, and should be cut in such a way that you can see light showing through its facets. His lab estimated the worth of these stones to be between $ 2.50 to $ 3.50 retail, and less than $ 1 wholesale.

Carter & Van Peel’s costs drop even further, he estimated, as the company buys these stones “by the ton.” Carter & Van Peel is part of a multifaceted, multimillion dollar corporation called Direct Marketing Enterprises (or DME) Ltd.

The folks at Nassau County Consumer Affairs have counted at least 10 companies operating under the DME umbrella, such as Abernathy & Closther, A & C Sewing Company, Gem Collectors International, and Cheeselovers International, all operating in the Westbury, N.Y., area. Consumer Affairs says that to its knowledge, DME is the largest mail order house in the United States.

Action Line regularly receives complaints from readers who have not received merchandise, everything from survival knives to diamond watches.


August 29, 1986



Complaints against mail-order marketers mount as mail-order sales increase; many of complaints are directed against relatively few firms, including two units of Direct Marketing Enterprises Ltd.

The New York Times

September 6, 1986


Complaints On Buying By Mail

By William R. Greer

CONSUMERS complain more about mail-order companies to Better Business Bureaus than about any other companies, according to the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Washington.

As the mail-order business has grown into a $44 billion industry – selling everything from designer clothing to houses – the largest category of complaints has come from consumers who say that what they ordered never arrived or was not what they expected.

Each year since 1975, such complaints have accounted for 15 to 22 percent of all those received by the bureaus. In 1983 there were 85,677 complaints, the most of any year, according to Richard L. Bullock, senior vice president of the council.

Because of the persistence of the problem, the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York set up a department this year to monitor mail-order companies. In the first six months, it received more than 4,000 complaints; nearly half were about five mail-order companies.

”What we’re seeing is that a few mail-order companies are contributing the majority of these problems,” said Rhonda Klein Singer, general counsel of the New York bureau.

The five companies are Abernathy & Closther, owned by Direct Marketing Enterprises of Westbury, L.I.; Poole’s Fifth Avenue, 89 Fifth Avenue, owned by the Overseas Exchange Corporation; Parfums de Paris, 175 Fifth Avenue; Carter & Van Peel, also owned by Direct Marketing Enterprises, and Favorite Fragrances, 210 Fifth Avenue.

In 74 percent of the complaints against those five companies, consumers said they never received the product they ordered. In the others, they said they got defective, incomplete or unsatisfactory merchandise.

The owners of all five companies, or their attorneys, have said that the number of complaints is small when compared with the volume of their business. The problem is often with the mail, they say, adding that when there is a problem, they send a refund or a new product.

Advertising Age

September 29, 1986

Mail-order ire for BBB

Of more than 4,000 complaints received in the first half of 1986 by the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York about mail-order purchases, nearly half concerned just four companies.

Direct Marketing Enterprises, Westbury, N.Y., and three New York- based companies — Favorite Fragrances, Overseas Exchange Corp. and Parfums de Paris — combined to make mail order the single most complained-about business at the BBB.

The BBB reports that Abernathy & Closther first came to its attention in June, 1980, barely five months after it began business. Based on its BBB file, the company does not meet bureau standards of business practice, failing to adjust the underlying causes of complaints during the past three years.

Complaints allege nondelivery, dissatisfaction with the merchandise and deceptive advertising. The company markets telephones, watches, knives, cookware, tennis rackets and various other items.

Other divisions of Direct Marketing Enterprises have similar notes in their files.

The BBB file on Overseas Exchange Corp. notes that the company is engaged in the mail-order sale of a variety of merchandise under names such as Poole’s Fifth Avenue, Prize Headquarters, Win-O-Gram and others. The bureau said several of these companies do not meet its standards of business practice, particularly regarding its record of unsubstantiated advertising and selling claims challenged by the bureau.

The BBB files for Favorite Fragrances and Parfums de Paris read similarly. Attempts to contact all four companies for comment were fruitless.

The Bergen County Record

November 11, 1986



Virginia Mann, Staff Writer

One of the most common mail-order complaints received by consumer agencies, as well as Action Line, is companies’ failure to deliver on time, or at all. Mail order has grown to a $44-billion industry annually, and with so many packages in the mail, some are bound to go astray. What you want to watch out for, though, is a company that consistently fails to deliver and ignores consumers’ pleas for corrective action.

As a first step in your research, call the Better Business Bureau serving your area, advises Leo J. Powelstock, executive director of the BBB of Bergen, Passaic, and Rockland counties. If the company in question is out of state, the BBB can refer you to the appropriate bureau. Just give the BBB the company’s ZIP code.

There’s a chance, though, that your BBB might have information on the out-of-state company in question; local bureaus sometimes exchange files. For example, Powelstock has reports on such Action Line regulars as Abernathy & Closther and Carter & Van Peel, which are both subsidiaries of the same corporation, Direct Marketing Enterprises Ltd. of Westbury, N.Y. These two companies also appear in a readily available report issued by the BBB of Metropolitan New York last September.

That report named five metropolitan-area companies that accounted for nearly half of all the mail-order complaints it had received in the first six months of 1986. (This is handy information to have when you’re doing your mail-order research.) In addition to Abernathy & Closther and Carter & Van Peel, the three other companies named in that report were Poole’s Fifth Avenue, Parfums de Paris, and Favorite Fragrances, all of New York City.

Some chronic offenders, Abernathy & Closther and Carter & Van Peel included, do resolve problems once an outside agency intervenes. Often a letter from us brings a card from them saying that the item has been reshipped. Indeed, the BBB says that the industry as a whole has a high adjustment rate.

The Bergen County Record

March 26, 1987



By The Record

Dear Action Line:

On Oct. 31, I sent a check for $ 14 to a company called RBM Ltd. in Hicksville, N.Y., for two circus clown dolls that I’d seen advertised. The dolls never arrived, so I wrote to the company but did not get any reply. I wrote again, and sent them a copy of my canceled check, but I still didn’t hear.

Jan. 24, I received a post card saying that if I had not received the dolls by the time the card arrived, I should fill in some information and return the card to the company’s Customer Service office in Jericho, N.Y. RBM promised to ship the merchandise as soon as it received this information.

I filled out the post card and returned it, but the only thing I received, on Jan. 31, was another post card from RBM. Once again, I filled it out and returned it, but I haven’t received anything.

On Feb. 9, I sent another letter to the company, with a copy of my canceled check, but I haven’t heard from them yet.

M.G., Clifton

RBM sent in the clowns when Action Line inquired about the missing merchandise. You told us that you received the dolls soon after our letter went out.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Metropolitan New York, RBM sells a variety of toys. The mail-order firm is a subsidiary of Direct Marketing Enterprises (DME) Ltd., which also owns two companies that appear on the BBB’s list of the top 10 complaint-generating companies of 1986 and have regularly graced Action Line columns, Abernathy & Closther and Carter & Van Peel.

Although RBM did not appear on that top 10 list, the BBB tells us that it has received a number of complaints about the company from consumers, most of whom say the company has failed to deliver orders and send refunds.

Incidentally, the eight other companies that made the BBB’s top 10 list were: American Family, The Direct Connection, The Factory Store, Favorite Fragrances, Market by Mail, North American Electronics Warehouse (which sold the mini-piano), Parfums de Paris, and Poole’s Fifth Avenue.

The Bergen County Record

June 21, 1987



By The Record

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Metropolitan New York, TrendsAction Marketing sells jewelry. The mail-order firm is a subsidiary of Direct Marketing Enterprises (DME) Ltd., which also owns two companies that appear on the BBB’s list of the top-10 complaint-generating companies for 1986 and are Action Line regulars, Abernathy & Closther and Carter & Van Peel.

Although the BBB has not received as many complaints about TrendsAction Marketing, those they do get are for failure to deliver orders and send refunds.

The Bergen County Record

August 28, 1987




Two companies own five of the 10 businesses on a list of top complaint-generating mail-order houses that was released yesterday by the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York. Companies on the list accounted for more than 1,700 complaints during the first half of 1987, more than half of mail-order complaints received by the bureau during that period.

Three companies, Abernathy & Closther, Carter & Van Peel, and RBM Ltd., are owned by Direct Marketing Enterprises, the bureau said. Two, Market Research Bureau and Poole’s Fifth Avenue, are owned by Overseas Exchange Corporation.

Both parent companies have been sued by the state attorney-general’s office for violation of consumer protection laws. All but one of the companies on the list released yesterday, Market by Mail, “have been the subject of significant law enforcement actions,” the bureau said.

The Bergen County Record

December 20, 1987



By The Record

RBM is a subsidiary of Raffoler Ltd., which also operates at least 10 other companies, Direct Marketing Enterprises, Abernathy & Closther, Carter & Van Peel, Gem Collectors International, and GHR, to name a few.

These companies sell low-priced cookware, knives, perfume, jewelry, stuffed toys, and sporting goods and have been the subject of frequent complaints to Action Line.

The company has recently been the subject of law-enforcement action by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York State attorney-general’s office.

The New York State attorney-general’s office filed a lawsuit July 14 seeking to bar Raffoler Ltd. from operating a mail-order business in New York State, said Russ McGurk, a spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Abrams. The suit contends the company was using false advertising and misrepresentation and had been delinquent in delivering merchandise and refunds. McGurk said the action came after his office received more than 700 complaints over an 18-month period, most of which allege nondelivery and dissatisfaction with the quality of merchandise received.

On Oct. 16, 1986, the Federal Trade Commission found Raffoler Ltd. in violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Mail Order Rule for not shipping merchandise on time and not notifying consumers of their option to either agree to a delay or cancel their order and receive a refund.

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York reports that Abernathy & Closter and Carter & Van Peel were on the BBB’s list of top 10 complaint-generating companies for 1986 and were joined on the list by RBM for the first half of 1987. The BBB said most of the complaints concerned nondelivery of merchandise, dissatisfaction with the quality of merchandise, and deceptive advertising.

Neil Morret, the attorney representing Raffoler Ltd., said, “The allegations brought by the New York attorney-general are subject to serious dispute and I am confident the company will prevail.” He contends that Raffoler handled 35 million consumer transactions over the period that the attorney-general’s office got the 700 complaints, making the percentage of complaints extremely low.

The New York Times

August 16, 1988


5 Direct Mail Ventures Stir Many Complaints

By Richard W. Stevenson

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York has released the names of the five direct mail companies that were responsible for more than a third of the 4,000 mail-order complaints it received in the first half of this year.

They are Direct Marketing Enterprises, which operates under the names of Abernathy & Closther, Carter & Van Peel, GHR, RBM and RTM; Market by Mail; Merlite Industries; Modern Coupon Systems, and the Overseas Exchange Corporation.

According to the Better Business Bureau, these companies had appeared previously on its semiannual mail-order report.

The Boston Globe

June 5, 1989


Headaches by catalogue

By Hank Gilman / Globe Staff

Most mail-order companies do a pretty good job. They’re convenient, the prices are right and the deliveries are timely. But not all the time.

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York reports that mail-order complaints, mainly involving products that weren’t delivered, rose 15 percent in 1988, to about 7,000, from the year before. Five companies accounted for one-third of the complaints.

Most of the five disputed the BBB findings in interviews; some of the companies’ spokesmen couldn’t be reached for comment.

Those listed as the main offenders are: New York-based American Direct Industries Inc., which markets merchandise such as jewelry under such names as “Pooles Fifth Avenue.” Direct Marketing Enterprises of Westbury, N.Y., sells jewelry and wallets; “Gem Collectors International” is one catalog it owns. Company officials say the number of complaints against it “is very small.”

Crain’s New York Business

July 31, 1989

BBB cities mail order firms

HKS Publishing Inc., a Manhattan-based mail order company for women’s clothing, accounted for nearly half of the more than 8,000 mail-order complaints filed so far this year with the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York Inc. Along with HKS, the top five mail-order firms in complaints were: American Direct Industries Inc. of Manhattan; Direct Marketing Enterprises of Westbury, L.I.; Modern Coupon Systems of Brooklyn, and Synchronal Corp. of Manhattan, which produces television shows that promote different products.


July 17, 1990


Maribeth Morris, P-I Columnist

V.M., Port Townsend: Glad we could get RBM in Westbury, N.Y., to send you the shoes you paid for in February. RBM is one of a string of companies under the umbrella of Direct Marketing Enterprises. Nearly all have been the subject of complaints over failure to deliver the goods.

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