Bay Area residents team up to fight alleged scam

A group of Peninsula residents allegedly duped by shady furniture salesmen has banded together in an effort to recoup thousands of dollars in money they claimwas scammed from them.

For those who claim to have lost money to a Burlingame sofa store beginning in March, the story is a familiar one: The customers allegedly paid a deposit without getting a receipt, waited months for their furniture while hearing excuses and then discovered the store had closed overnight before Labor Day weekend, they claim.

Numerous customers said Bay Area Sofas, formerly located at 833 Mahler Road, scammed them. The Examiner has found 18 alleged victims, and Burlingame police have received 40 to 50 reports on the store. The lawyer to whom the store owners incorrectly referred customers said he has also received more than 100 calls from those saying they were duped. The alleged victims have found refuge by sharing their stories together online through sites such as Yelp and Yahoo Groups.

Victims have taken action into their own hands by hiring a private investigator and contacting lawyers to file a civil lawsuit, led by victim David Birdsong.

Customer Kanu Patel allegedly lost $7,200 after placing a deposit on three custom sofas in April. Like everyone else, he was told he would receive his furniture in six to eight weeks. He says he was repeatedly informed that there were delays in the shipping process and that a manufacturing company had closed. He and other customers say they recently received a letter from store owner Monte Butler saying the shop was closed.

Phyllis Van Hagen reportedly got the same excuses about her $1,581 love seat and upholstered chair she purchased upfront in March. The store allegedly told her they had lost her fabric — only to call back five minutes later with the fabric after she threatened to cancel her order. Managers even said her furniture fell of a truck on the freeway on the way to her home.

Vicki Rose paid by check for half of her $1,649 sectional in August after managers told her they were having a sale: no tax if paid for by cash orcheck. She realized later that the promise was a red flag.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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