FTC returns $2.3 million from online work-at-home scheme

The operation used Google's name to charge customers for a bogus work-at-home service, the agency says

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has begun mailing 93,086 refund checks totalling nearly US$2.3 million to consumers who were allegedly charged hidden fees by a fake work-at-home service that used Google's name to advertise.

The online work-at-home operation, which operated under the names Google Money Tree, Google Pro and Google Treasure Chest, deceptively used Google's name and logo, the FTC said in a Tuesday press release. The operation promised that consumers could earn $100,000 in six months after signing up to receive a work-at-home kit for a shipping fee of under $4, according to the FTC and court records.

The operation was not affiliated with Google, the FTC said.

The operation didn't tell consumers that, by ordering the work-at-home kit, they were disclosing their account information and would be charged an additional $72.21 each month, the FTC said.

Under a settlement with the FTC, the defendants are banned from selling products through so-called negative option transactions, in which the seller interprets consumers' silence or inaction as permission to charge them. The defendants are also prohibited from making misleading or unsupported claims while marketing or selling any product or service.

The FTC filed a complaint against the operation in July 2009 U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. A final judgment against the operation, including companies Infusion Media and West Coast Internet Media, came in October 2010.

The settlement also required the defendants to surrender cash and other assets, which are being used by the FTC to refund consumers who bought the Google Money Tree, Google Pro, or Google Treasure Chest products.

The FTC Checks mailed the checks on Tuesday. The checks and must be cashed before Nov. 12.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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