The State of Illinois is suing an Evanston-based marketing firm for "cramming" consumers' credit cards with unauthorized charges for supposedly free trial offers of coffee products.

"We've received an extraordinary number of complaints from consumers who believed they were signing up for free items but wound up with unauthorized charges from this company," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "Because of cases like this, it's important that consumers carefully review their monthly credit card statements to ensure they're not being unexpectedly billed."

Madigan's complaint alleges that defendants Peel, Inc., and its President Brian Dale sell products online at dozens of Web sites, including hundreds of complaints,, and The company markets its products using "free trial" offers and requires consumers to provide their billing information purportedly to cover shipping and handling fees for the supposedly free merchandise.

However, within days of signing up for a free trial, consumers begin receiving unauthorized charges ranging from $19.99 to $49.99 on their credit cards.

Further, Madigan's complaint alleges that if consumers are able to reach Peel's customer service, the company allegedly promises to stop charging consumers but fails to do so. Consumers continue to receive unauthorized charges on their credit cards. Madigan's Consumer Fraud Bureau and the Better Business Bureau have received more than 2,300 complaints against Peel and its affiliated Web sites.

Complaints has also received hundreds of complaints about this company, most recently from Marvin, in Okemah, Okla.

"In early August, 2009 I signed up for a free sample from Seattle Coffee Direct. All I had to pay was $2.99, which was charged to my eppicard.," he told "In late August I noticed a transaction on the eppicard account for approximately $38 from Seattle Coffee Direct, however they were using a different name to identify the payee. I immediately contacted eppicard and was told to call back to file a dispute when the charge cleared."

Told that the disputed charge would be removed, Marvin was chagrined when another $38 charge appeared on his account four days later. When he called customer service he says he was told that he has signed up for two shipments a month, although he says he did nothing more than request a free sample.

Madigan's suit alleges the defendants violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by placing unauthorized charges on consumers' credit card bills. The suit seeks a permanent injunction barring the defendants from doing business in Illinois, restitution for consumers, civil penalties of $50,000 for violating the Consumer Fraud Act, and an additional $50,000 for each violation committed with the intent to defraud.

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