A federal agency is distributing money to consumers as the last phase of a lawsuit that accused four Utahns of improperly charging credit and debit cards of people enticed by claims of fabulous earnings from using Google.
The Federal Trade Commission is distributing $2.5 million to consumers, which works out to $24 for each of the 93,000 or so people who the agency has been able to identify as customers of the Internet-based marketers.
Named in the 2009 lawsuit were Jonathan Eborn, Sandy; Stephanie Burnside, Sandy; Michael McLain Miller, Springville; and Tony Norton, Riverton. They controlled companies called Infusion Media Inc. of Springville, West Coast Internet Media Inc. of Sandy, Platinum Teleservices Inc. of Draper and Two Warnings LLC and Two Part Investments LLC of Las Vegas.
Using such names as Google Money Tree, Google Pro, Google Treasure Chest and Internet Income Pro, the companies enticed consumers to buy products by claiming they could earn more than $100,000 in six months by filling out forms and doing Internet searches.
But customers who provided credit card and debit card numbers for what was supposed to be a nominal shipping and handling fee, also were charged about $72 a month.
The monthly charges were not properly disclosed before purchase, not authorized by consumers and the seven-day cancellation period was not adequately stated, the lawsuit said.
In an October 2010 settlement, Eborn, Miller, Norton and the companies were ordered to pay $29.5 million. But that amount was suspended, based on their inability to pay, and group agreed to turn over properties worth $3.5 million. Burnside, was ordered to pay $741,900.
Under the settlement, the Utahns are banned from selling products using "negative option" transactions in which a consumer’s failure to opt out of a sale on a website means they get charged for that transaction. They also are barred from making misleading or unsupported claims while marketing or selling any product or service.
Daniel Hanks, one of the FTC attorneys who litigated the case, said Wednesday that after subtracting for expenses, taxes and claims for unpaid bills, $2.5 million was left for distribution to the 93,000 former customers.
"If there are people who don’t receive a check but who have been victimized by this, they can get in touch with the FTC and make that known to us," Hanks said.
Consumers can call the administrator of the funds toll free at 1-877-226-2847.
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