Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an action against online marketer, Jesse Willms, who allegedly made over $450 million from consumers worldwide. His companies allegedly lured consumers using “free” or “risk-free” offers and then charged them for products or services they did not agree to.
“The defendants used the lure of a “free” offer to open an illegal pipeline to consumers’ credit card and bank account,” said David C. Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Free must really mean free, no matter where the offer is made.”
Willms’ various online endeavors- Alberta Ltd, Just Think Media, Dazzle White, eDirectSoftware, Farend Services Ltd and Wuyi Source- generated large volumes of complaints in a short period of time, which prompted the BBB to review Willms’ companies files for a pattern of complaints.
A complaint pattern remained consistent for his companies, so BBB contacted the appropriate outside agencies (the Competition Bureau in Canada and the FTC in the U.S.) for help. The FTC asked BBB for information concerning the companies, their affiliates, as well as their complaint history.
Since 2008, BBB has processed over 4,000 complaints against the companies. Consumers told BBB they were unaware of monthly charges, had difficulties receiving refunds or never received the products. BBB serving Central and Northern Alberta and BBB serving Los Angeles worked with these consumers and the company to try and resolve any concerns.
In addition to Willms, the FTC also named Brett Callister, Peter Graver, Adam Sechrist and Carey Milne as defendants.
The action claims that Willms and his various companies used deceptive marketing tactics by offering “free” trials of teeth whitening, acai berry and weight loss supplements. These offers stated consumers would only pay shipping and handling, but they ended up paying monthly subscriptions fees they were unaware of.
Willms also operated a penny auction website. Consumers believe they would receive bonus bids for joining the site However, consumers who provided credit card or banking information were charged $150, recurring monthly fees and bid fees for using the service. Whether or not a consumer won an auction, they were still required to pay for any bids.
“BBB’s goal is to create marketplace trust,” said Kim States, BBB President. “Consumers should be able to trust what they’re reading without looking for the catch.”
To help consumers avoid being lured by trial offers, BBB advises consumers to do the following:
- Read all terms and conditions. Review the information to determine exactly what you’re paying for and how much it will cost. Also, discover any return or exchange and cancellation policies prior to purchase.
- Read your credit card statements. You’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t agree to.
- Research the company. Visit www.tucson.bbb.org or search online to see what others are saying about the company, its products and its services.
For more information please visit www.tucson.bbb.org, or call Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona at (520)888-5353.