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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC settles with e-commerce telemarketers for $1.2 million

Federal Issues FTC Act Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule Deceptive Settlement UDAP

Federal Issues

On May 13, the FTC announced a $1.2 million settlement with a group of telemarketing companies and their owners (collectively, “defendants”) for an allegedly deceptive e-commerce scheme in violation of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the defendants sold products and services to consumers trying to start at-home internet-based businesses, which the defendants claimed would “substantially increase the visibility of and drive customer traffic to consumers’ ecommerce websites on the Internet.” The defendants would allegedly obtain leads by using a service that produces leads of consumers who have recently registered websites. The defendants would contact the consumers by telephone to sell services and would typically continue to call consumers to “upsell” additional products. The FTC argues that “[c]ontrary to [d]efendants’ representations, many consumers who purchase [d]efendants’ products and services do not end up with a functional website, earn little or no money, and end up heavily in debt.” The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the TSR, and the CRFA by, among other things, (i) making unsubstantiated and false earnings and product claims; (ii) making false claims about business affiliations; and (iii) using contract provisions that restrict consumers’ ability to review or complain about purchased products or services.

The settlement with two of the entities and one owner includes a monetary judgment of over $16 million, which is partially suspended due to an inability to pay, and requires the defendants to surrender over $900,000. In separate settlements with the other two owners, large monetary judgments are also partially suspended due to an inability to pay, with one required to surrender over $100,000, and the other required to surrender over $200,000.

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