Consumer fraud alerts are all-too-frequent these days, as unscrupulous businesses continue to prey on cash-strapped post-recession consumers. Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission took a stand against a marketing campaign that promised it would tell consumers how to “get free gas for life.” The marketing campaign is really designed to lure consumers into unwittingly subscribing to an Internet magazine, the federal watchdog said.
If it seems too good…
The FTC complaint was filed against the Green Millionaire, LLC of Los Angeles for its “Green Millionaire Book,” which also claims to show you how to get free solar panels on your home and how to make your electricity meter turn in reverse, so that the utility actually pays you money. And all this, amazingly, for free. The book was hawked in television ads that ran from September 2009 through November 2010.
Carmen Christopher, an attorney for the FTC, said:
“The word ‘free’ was on the screen for a lot of the commercial in large white letters with exclamation points. And the author, Nigel Williams, who was in the commercials, said the book was ‘free.’”
Free, for a hefty fee
People lured in by the TV ads were required to supply a credit card number, supposedly to cover a $1.95 shipping expense. Instead, according to the FTC charges, consumers were charged either $29.95 for a six-month subscription or $89.95 for a one-year subscription to an online magazine. To not be charged, customers had to unsubscribed within 14 days, as was disclosed in misleading fine print that was “pretty well hidden.”
“Many consumers found that after they took advantage of the ‘free book,’ they were in fact charged a significant amount of money they did not intend to spend.”
The complaint also said that testimonials in the TV commercials — in which supposed consumers claimed to get everything from electricity to cars without paying for them — were staged.
Ordered to pay $2 million
The FTC ordered Green Millionaire to pay nearly $2 million in damages, and it is no longer allowed to make misleading product claims. However, after lawyer fees and court costs, that means most people swindled in the scam will receive only about half of what they lost.
FTC tools for consumers
The FTC has a free (no, really this time) video on its website entitled “Free Trial Offers” that alerts consumers of what to look for when considering these kinds of offers.