IWorks.com and the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission is taking legal action against a far-reaching Internet enterprise that allegedly has made millions of dollars by luring consumers into “trial” memberships for bogus government-grant and money-making schemes, and then repeatedly charging them monthly fees for these and other memberships that they never signed up for. The FTC seeks to stop the illegal practices and make the defendants pay redress to consumers and give up their ill-gotten gains.

“No consumer should be sucker-punched into making payments for products they don’t know about and don’t want,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants offer consumers bogus money-making and government-grant opportunities. They claim that the offers are “free” or “risk-free,” and that they will charge customers only a small shipping and handling fee.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the operation, doing business under the name I Works and controlled by Jeremy Johnson and nine other individuals, uses websites that tout the availability of government grants to pay personal expenses or pitch various money-making programs. The websites offer “free” information at no risk and ask consumers to provide their credit or debit card numbers to pay for a small shipping and handling fee such as $1.99. When consumers provide their billing information, though, I Works proceeds to charge them hefty one-time fees of up to $129.95 and monthly recurring fees of up to $59.95 for the grant or money-making programs. I Works charges them additional monthly fees for one or more unrelated programs that consumers did not agree to.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that this scheme has caused hundreds of thousands of consumers to seek chargebacks – reversals of charges to their credit cards or debits to their banks accounts. The high number of chargebacks has landed the defendants in VISA’s and MasterCard’s chargeback monitoring programs, resulted in millions of dollars in fines for excessive chargebacks, and prevented the defendants from getting access to the credit card and debit card billing systems using their own names. To keep the scam going, the defendants tricked banks into giving them continued access to these billing systems by creating 51shell companies with figurehead officers, and by providing the banks with phony “clean” versions of their websites.

The FTC has charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act by misrepresenting that government grants are available for paying personal expenses, that consumers are likely to obtain grants by using the defendants’ program, that users of their money-making products will earn substantial income, and that their offers are free or risk-free. The complaint also alleges that defendants failed to disclose that consumers who pay a nominal shipping and handling fee will be enrolled in expensive plans that charge consumers fees until they cancel, and that the defendants charged consumers’ credit cards and debited their bank accounts without their consent.

In addition, the FTC alleges that defendants posted deceptive positive reviews and used deceptive testimonials that misrepresented the benefits of their grant services. Finally, the FTC has charged the defendants with violating the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E by debiting consumers’ bank accounts without their signed written consent and without providing consumers with a copy of the written authorization.

As alleged in the complaint, the defendants gained access to the Visa and MasterCard systems through many entities. The banks included Wells Fargo, N.A., HSBC Bank USA, First Regional Bank, Harris National Association, and Columbus Bank and Trust Company. The payment processors the defendants used included First Data, ECHO, Global Payment Systems, Litle & Co., Moneris, Payment Tech, Trident, and Vital, as well as independent sales organizations, including CardFlex, RDK Inc., Merchant eSolutions, Pivotal Payments, PowerPay, and Swipe Merchant Solutions.

The FTC complaint names 10 individuals, 10 corporations, and 51 shell companies as defendants. As alleged in the complaint, the lynchpin of the enterprise is Jeremy Johnson, the sole owner and officer of I Works Inc., which has done business under numerous names. The FTC’s complaint names Johnson and nine other individual defendants: Duane Fielding; Andy Johnson; Loyd Johnston; Scott Leavitt; Scott Muir; Bryce Payne; Kevin Pilon; Ryan Riddle; and Terrason Spinks. In addition, the 10 corporate defendants are: I Works Inc.; Anthon Holdings Corp.; Cloud Nine Marketing Inc.; CPA Upsell Inc.; Elite Debit Inc.; Employee Plus Inc.; Internet Economy Inc.; Market Funding Solutions Inc.; Network Agenda LLC; and Success Marketing Inc.

The 51 shell companies named in the complaint are Big Bucks Pro Inc., Blue Net Progress Inc., Blue Streak Processing Inc., Bolt Marketing Inc., Bottom Dollar Inc., doing business as BadCustomer.com, Bumble Marketing Inc., Business First Inc., Business Loan Success Inc., Cold Bay Media Inc., Costnet Discounts Inc., CS Processing Inc., Cutting Edge Processing Inc., Diamond J. Media Inc., Ebusiness First Inc., Ebusiness Success Inc., Ecom Success Inc., Excess Net Success Inc., Fiscal Fidelity Inc., Fitness Processing Inc., Funding Search Success Inc., Funding Success Inc., GG Processing Inc., GGL Rewards Inc., Highlight Marketing Inc., Hooper Processing Inc., Internet Business Source Inc., Internet Fitness Inc., Jet Processing Inc., JRB Media Inc., Lifestyles For Fitness Inc., Mist Marketing Inc., Money Harvest Inc., Monroe Processing Inc., Net Business Success Inc., Net Commerce Inc., Net Discounts Inc., Net Fit Trends Inc., Optimum Assistance Inc., Power Processing Inc., Premier Performance Inc., Pro Internet Services Inc., Razor Processing Inc., Rebate Deals Inc., Revive Marketing Inc., Simcor Marketing Inc., Summit Processing Inc., The Net Success Inc., Tranfirst Inc., Tran Voyage Inc., Unlimited Processing Inc., and Xcel Processing Inc.

The Commission vote to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe”
that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law.

Original FTC Release Can Be Found Here:

http://ftc.gov/opa/2010/12/iworks.shtm

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Many E-Tailers caught in post-transaction processing scandal blame customers

According to a November 23rd story at CNET.com many of the recent E-Tailers that were caught in the post-transaction processing scandal  blamed customers for not reading the terms of service.

According to the CNET article here’s what many of the companies said:

“Orbitz “does not pass on any personally identifiable customer information to third party vendors without their permission,” the travel site said in a statement.

United Online, parent company of FTD and Classmates.com, a company that the government said banked $70 million via the three marketers said: “We believe that our marketing practices provide clear disclosure. We do not transfer our customer’s credit or debit card information to third parties without our customer’s consent.”

Priceline said the terms of the deal have “been clearly and fully explained.”

This should play out quite interestingly, especially given the recent educational alliance between the FTC, VISA, and the BBB as well as the fact that the FTC and credit card companies are cracking down on deceptive billing practices which has resulted in many companies losing their merchant accounts.

There are easy solutions on both the business side and the customer side in situations like this.

On the business side you can:

  • Blame the customer
  • Take responsibility (assuming you did something wrong)

On the customer side you can:

  • Stop doing business with companies that violate your trust

Related:

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FTC Cracks Down on Scammers Trying to Take Advantage of the Economic Downturn

New Public Education Video Helps Consumers Steer Clear of Business Opportunity Fraud


The Federal Trade Commission today announced a law enforcement crackdown on scammers trying to take advantage of the economic downturn to bilk vulnerable consumers through a variety of schemes, such as promising non-existent jobs; promoting overhyped get-rich-quick plans, bogus government grants, and phony debt-reduction services; or putting unauthorized charges on consumers’ credit or debit cards.

Dubbed “Operation Short Change,” the law enforcement sweep announced today includes 15 FTC cases, 44 law enforcement actions by the Department of Justice, and actions by at least 13 states and the District of Columbia. During a joint press conference today at the FTC, David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West; Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina; and a Washington, D.C. job seeker who was conned by a company that made false promises of maintenance and janitorial work.

Click here for the full press release and list of current cases where the FTC has cracked down on scammers (Operation Shortchange).

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