Posted by Sarah Bird, Esquire

May It Please the Mozzers,

The Washington State Attorney General announced in a press release yesterday that it was suing a Redmond-based SEO company, Visible.net. According to the Complaint, Visible also does business under the name WebMarketingSource.com, Caputures.com, and Captures.com (that’s not a typo). The AG also names the owner of the companies, Gilbert Walker, as a defendant in the case.

The defendants sell website design, SEO, and other internet marketing services, along with providing e-conmmerce services to process online purchases for merchant customers. They promote their services through their website and by telemarketing. Packages include an intial startup fee of 3,749.99 up to $9,749.99 plus a monthly fee of $39.9 to $99.99.

“When it comes to Internet search results, every small business wants to pull rank,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Merchants hoping to increase their online sales paid thousands of dollars to Visible.net and Captures.com but didn’t always receive the top listings and other services they were promised.” The Ag’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit, said that AG’s office and the Better Business Bureau have received nearly 90 complaints about the defendants, showing a pattern of recurring problems since at least 2005.

Washington filed the lawsuit on behalf of consumers and accuses the companies and their owner of violating state consumer protection and telemarketing laws. The complaint makes the following claims:

  • Defendants misrepresented their ability to increase their customers’ traffic, ranking, and sales. Defendants misrepresented that their customers will obtain increased sales by using defendants’ services, for example stating that they will have "more business than they can handle," that they will be making money within "60 to 90 days," and that they will have a "hard time keeping up with Internet orders."
  • Defendants also misrepresented that they are affiliated with other marketers in order to sell services to prospective clients. For example, they falsely represented that they are affiliated with Specialty Merchandise Company, a drop-ship. SMC is a "membership program" whereby member/resellers pay a monthly fee for the right to advertise and sell products that SMC directly ships to their members’ customers. The defendants directly solicited these members, claiming that they were affiliated with the company. A number of consumers agreed to p[urchase defendants’ services in the mistaken belief that they are, in fact, affiliated with SMC.
  • The defendants are also accused of wrongfully claiming that its customer services representatives can be reached at any time when, in fact, customers are often unable to reach representatives and sometimes do not receive return calls.
  • Defendants allegedly failed to provide refunds or honor cancellation requests. They continued to bill the credit cards of some consumers who have attempted to cancel and submitted alleged debts to collection agencies.
  • The defendants also failed to register with the Washington Department of Licensing as commercial telephone solicitors and failed to provide written confirmation of a consumer’s rights under the Commercial Telephone Solicitation Act.

The AG is seeking civil penalties and consumer restitution in addition to a court order halting the deceptive practices.

Visible.net has not yet issued at statement about the lawsuit, but a representative said that they will probably post something on their blog. UPDATE: Visible.net posted a response on its blog. They deny the AG’s allegations.

I’ll keep you updated as the case develops.

Best Regards,
Sarah L. Bird

Hat tip to Ryan Todd for bringing the case to my attention.

Other coverage:

Networkworld.com

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