The headline says it all, but it's a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

On Aug. 1, one of my loveably misguided friends sent me $25 of Flooz, online Web dollars that can be redeemed for goods at many Web outlets like BarnesandNoble.com. Weeks later, that $25 gift certificate is worth less than Confederate dollars in 1866.

The whole miserable experience unfolded when I tried to spend my $25. Torn between The Dirt, a behind-the-scenes tell-all of Motley Crue's heyday in the '80s, and a DVD of Goodfellas, I settled on the blood-soaked Scorsese classic and went to Barnes and Noble's virtual bookstore.

I searched, selected and added to my cart. I checked the Flooz box as my form of payment. I entered my 16-digit Flooz code number. I clicked "Go." I waited a few minutes. And then BarnesandNoble.com told me the Flooz system was down.

Boy, was that an understatement. The Flooz system was out. As a journalist and an unhappy customer, I wanted to get to the bottom of what would become of my Flooz money. Below is a journal of my travails.

Monday, Aug. 13

After visiting Flooz.com, I learn that this is Whoopi Goldberg's Internet venture. My stomach turns. I'd rather watch every episode of Full House with Libyan terrorists than sit through one of Whoopi's films. This is an omen.

The site says: "We are currently unable to process your transaction. We are working very hard to resume Flooz.com Web site operations. Check back for further updates."

I call Flooz. The phone rings four times before the recording picks up and I head off to customer service, where it rings 5 times before I am asked to leave a message. I do. Perturbed, I call back and get the extension for Robert Levitan, Flooz's CEO. Again, I leave a message.

Searching the news wires, I discover that on Friday, Aug. 10 -- just nine days after my friend sent me the gift -- the company announced it suspended operations and was looking for a merger partner. I am outta luck.

Just then, Levitan calls back. "We asked retail partners to take it down as a form of payment while doing discussions," he says. "We thought it was in best interest of all our customers to take down the site."

The nonsense detector in my head explodes: "If I can't spend my Flooz, then how is that in my best interest?"

"We're at a delicate place here, Eric. I can't comment further," he says, sounding disappointed that he can't help me more. He's busy trying to save the company on the other end and my $25 problem, although important, pales in comparison to his larger issues.

Suddenly, I feel bad for him. He's doing his own customer service now. At least he called me back and said he'd contact me as soon as he knows more.

Tuesday, Aug. 14

I receive no messages. Think about harassing Levitan but don't. Check Flooz.com and realize it's still down. At least I went out and bought Goodfellas at The Wiz.

Wednesday, Aug. 15

Still no Flooz.com.

I check later in the afternoon. I notice an email address: customercare@flooz.com. Had it been there the entire time? I eagerly await the automated response after sending them this:

"I got a $25 Flooz for my birthday on Aug. 1. Now it doesn't work at all. What do I do? Thanks, Eric"

Thursday, Aug. 16

Nothing. So much for automated responses.

Friday, Aug. 17

My ex-girlfriend, an old college roommate and a work acquaintance all email today. Flooz still hasn't. I'm beginning to think that the phrase "check back for further updates" is an attempt to nudge up page views.

Monday, Aug. 20

Levitan picks up after a ring. I update him on the situation, and how "customercare@flooz.com" doesn't really seem to care about customers.

"You should be getting a reply back. I'll look into that," he says. "We'll be making comments very soon."

Tuesday, Aug. 21

I didn't even look. I know nothing's different.

Wednesday, Aug. 22

I look. Nothing is different.

Thursday, Aug. 23

The site's blurb only reads: "We are currently unable to process your transaction. Check back for further updates."

Left a message for Levitan that I'm going public with my travails.

This story isn't over. I'm going to keep after Levitan and the rest of the Floozies to get my $25 back. But there's a lesson in this. And I have no idea what it is.

Flooz.com is located here in Manhattan at 145 W. 45th St. Ste. 603. Maybe I should pay a visit and ask them what it is.

If you wish to contribute to the "Get Eric His $25 Flooz Birthday Gift Back" cause, please send heartfelt letters, photos and other sundries to customercare@flooz.com.