Google sues over work-at-home schemes

Pacific WebWorks used Google's brand name to push fraudulent home working schemes, Google alleges

Google filed a lawsuit Monday against a U.S. company it alleges runs work-at-home scams that unnecessarily charge people's credit cards and spoof Google's brand name.

Pacific WebWorks of Salt Lake City, Utah, is accused of offering for a small fee a toolkit to enable online work at home but then continually charges a person's credit card offering "little of value, or nothing at all, in return for their payments," reads the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah.

The names of the kits include "The Home Business Kit for Google," "Google StartUp Kit" and "Google Adwork" among other variations.

Google wants the company to stop using its trademarks in any promotional materials. It is asking for a jury trial, and wants Pacific WebWorks to pay damages and reveal a full accounting of its profits.

Also named in the suit are 50 "John Does" that Google alleges are complicit in the schemes. Those individuals will be named later in the suit as their identities are discovered.

Christian R. Larsen, president of Pacific WebWorks, said on Tuesday that "we do not comment at all to any media outlet on legal issues." The company, however, does plan to eventually issue a press release responding to Google, he said.

In November, a class action suit was filed against Pacific WebWorks in Illinois over the company's work-at-home business. Google said it decided to file its own suit since the class action may not stop Pacific WebWorks from using the Google trademark to advertise the schemes.

Google had notified the U.S. Federal Trade Commission of other work-at-home schemes using its brand. Some Web site running similar schemes were shut down, but Pacific WebWorks continued to run other ones, Google alleges.

To avoid detection, Pacific WebWorks allegedly used "an ever-changing coterie of Web sites that utilize the same templates to generate the same fake news stories, fake testimonials, fake blogs and pressure tactics to drive unsuspecting consumers to credit card processing sites like those run by PWW," the lawsuit said.

The advertisements claimed that someone could make hundreds of dollars working at home doing some simple tasks requiring no special training, the lawsuit said.

The program is advertised as free, but people are required to pay either an access fee or a shipping and handling fee for an instructional DVD. But after paying the fee "many consumers receive nothing," Google alleges.

"Consumers are not enrolled in any program that provides opportunities for generating income," the lawsuit reads. "Instead they are subjected to continuing monthly fees that often exceed $50 and range as high as $79.90."

Many consumers went to Google to complain, and Google referred those complaints to the FTC. Often, consumers found it difficult to cancel the continuing charges or recoup their money, the lawsuit said.

Pacific WebWorks has "generated millions of dollars in revenue from these recurring charges," the lawsuit said.

In a Sept. 30 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacific WebWorks describes itself as an application service provider and specializing in Web site development software tools for small to medium-size businesses. Pacific WebWorks also runs Intellipay, a subsidiary that focuses on online payment processing for businesses.

Pacific WebWorks was not open and available for comment on Tuesday morning U.K. time. The voice message referred callers to www.profitcenterlearning.com, a Web site named in the lawsuit. The Web site, however, was not working.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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