March 16, 2009
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Ventura District Attorney Gregory D. Totten today clamped down on two companies — Imergent, Inc. and Stores On Line — that "falsely promised" customers that they could earn full-time income by selling merchandise over the Internet.
"These companies falsely promised customers that they could get rich by selling merchandise over the Internet," Brown said. "In reality, many customers were left in deep debt, paying high up-front costs, and never earning a dime from their websites. This agreement allows these customers to get back some of their losses."
These two companies sell website-based "stores," in packages of three or six websites, at a cost of between $2,700 and $6,000. They market their products at seminars, which they advertise through postcards and other mailings often sent to senior citizens with limited Internet experience. They often offer seminar attendees a meal and a free gift such as an MP3 player.
The companies made statements such as:
"Are you ready to claim YOUR share of eBay's annual $3.2 Billion in revenue? By attending our FREE 90-minute eBay Entrepreneur Training' Conference you will learn how eBay PowerSellers run successful Internet businesses and how an elite few use additional strategies to boost revenues way beyond the average seller. Learn how nearly half-a-million people create full-time incomes using eBay!"
At the seminars, the companies make tantalizing claims regarding the massive profits that can be earned by consumers who purchase their product. Often, however, these profits are never realized and the customer is left in serious debt.
One victim used the inheritance left by her father to purchase six websites, in hopes that they would help supplement her income after retirement. The victim spent over $10,000 in set up costs. Of the six websites the victim bought, only one has been set up, and it continues to cost more than it brings in.
In August of 2006, the California Attorney General's Office and the Ventura County District Attorney settled a previous case against Imergent, Inc. and Stores On Line. That settlement barred the defendants from engaging in conduct that violated California's laws governing Seller Assisted Marketing Plans.
The Attorney General's office continued to monitor the companies' business practices and discovered that they were violating the 2006 agreement and were continuing to sell Seller Assisted Marketing Plans without registering with the state.
A new action was brought in 2007 to enforce the prior judgment, and to seek penalties, restitution, and an injunction. Today's agreement resolves the 2007 action.
The companies have agreed to the following terms:
Pay $147,600 for full restitution to California consumers who have complained to the Attorney General's Office, the Ventura County District Attorney, or directly with StoresOnLine.
Pay $202,400 for restitution to California consumers who submit complaints within 90 days.
Cancel all outstanding financing contracts for consumers who have complained.
StoresOnLine will also send a letter to all California purchasers who have bought since January 1, 2008, offering them a 15
day period within which to cancel the transaction and receive a refund.
Register with the state as a seller of Seller Assisted Marketing Plans
Provide a 15
day right to cancel for purchasers over the age of 65
Disclose clearly the circumstances under which StoreOnLine will charge consumers a web site hosting fee, and provide consumers the opportunity to opt out of hosting websites with Imergent, Inc. and Stores On Line.
Provide the Attorney General's Office with recordings of sales presentations and notify the Attorney General and Ventura County District Attorney's Office when sales presentations take place in California, so they can be monitored.
These types of schemes are promoted on TV infomercials, on the Internet, by direct mail, at trade shows, at invitation-only seminars, and through ads that may appear in the classified sections of newspapers or magazines. The ads promise big earnings, and promise that no selling or other experience is necessary.
If you believe you are a victim and have not yet made a complaint to the Attorney General's Office, you may be entitled to restitution if you submit a complaint within 90 days. You may file a complaint online at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php or call the Public Inquiry Unit at 1-800-952-5225.