What started out as a simple kitchen upgrade for Pam and Rusty Allen went downhill fast after the Lake Zurich couple said they found themselves stuck between a bankrupt business and a big bank.
Last February, the Allens bought nearly $5,000 of appliances from Hhgregg. A few days later, they said they found out the retailer was shutting its doors.
"We had no idea when we purchased the appliances,” Pam Allen recalled. “I think it was just a couple days later they announced the first of the store closings.”
When the Allens called to set up delivery, the situation quickly went from bad to worse.
"Ding ding ding, big time! They couldn't even promise us a delivery date," Rusty Allen told NBC 5 Responds.
That’s when the couple decided to pull the plug on the order, canceling it by phone and by email.
"We never got possession. There were never any goods or services delivered to our house. Zero," Rusty Allen said.
But they soon learned they were officially stuck in the bankruptcy mess and eligible only for the maximum refund allowed under the Chapter 11 order: $2,850.
As for the other $2,000 they were out? The Allens said the outlook was grim.
"File a claim with the bankruptcy court,” Pam Allen recounted. “Get in line."
That’s when the couple said the light bulb went on: They paid with their Citibank credit card.
"The reason you put things on credit cards is for the protection," Pam Allen said.
It is the kind of fraud protection widely offered by credit card users. But in this case, there was a hitch. The Allens said Citibank wouldn’t help unless they could provide an official cancellation order from Hhgregg.
"It was clear in the email exchange that the order was canceled. And so we provided that. That was the only proof we had," Pam Allen said. “But that wasn't enough for Citibank."
So the couple was left with the daunting task of proving a negative. Because they could not prove they did not receive the appliances, the Allens said Citibank decided not to back them up, saying there was no fraud here. The Allens said they were told to pay up or face late fees and a hit on their credit.
"And I said wait a minute! We have zero goods, no services, nothing was ever delivered to our house and you want us to pay for something we don't have?" Rusty Allen questioned.
Bankruptcy professor Jason Kilborn said he sees it all too often.
"Neither of these big companies have the interest or the willingness to deal with these folks in the way in which they ought to be treated," Kilborn said. "And it leaves them very often right in the middle of a legal process that is by design way too cumbersome and expensive for the average person to engage."
Which is why the Allens asked NBC 5 Responds to help them navigate this mess.
“Then all of a sudden the phone rings,” Rusty Allen said. “The wheels began to turn."
We asked Citibank to re-examine the case. A little more than a week later, Citibank reversed its decision, wiping out the $2,000 charge.
Back in Lake Zurich, the Allens are happy to put this behind them. When it comes to customer service, Rusty Allen says Citibank dropped the ball.
"I asked them many times: Would you pay for something you didn't get?" he said.
Citibank and Hhgregg did not respond to our request for comment.