Washington, DC – At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court in Illinois has handed down a final judgment and order requiring nine related Canadian and U.S. defendants to pay more than $4.6 million for tricking small businesses into paying for Internet directory listings, search engine optimization services, or website design and hosting services they never ordered.
The FTC announced the case against the Premium Business Pages defendants in June 2018, as part of the multi-agency “Operation Main Street” law enforcement initiative directed to scams targeting small businesses.
The default judgment and order, issued by the U.S. District Court for the North District of Illinois, Eastern Division, also permanently bans the two individual and seven corporate defendants from advertising, marketing, or selling any Internet directory listings, search engine optimization services, or website design and hosting services.
The order further prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting, among other things, that they have a preexisting relationship with consumers, that they have ordered their services, or that they owe money to the defendants.
Finally, the order bars the defendants from seeking to collect money on any outstanding accounts that are still open, or transferring any of these account to anyone else for collection, and imposes record-keeping and reporting provisions to ensure their compliance with its terms.
The FTC’s complaint charged the defendants with making unsolicited calls to small businesses since 2013 to induce them to pay for unordered Internet directory listings, search engine optimization services, or website design and hosting services. The defendants allegedly targeted businesses using several names, including Premium Business Pages, Ameteck Group, The Local Business Pages, and Data Net Technologies.
When first contacting businesses, the defendants claimed to be calling to collect on a past-due invoice for one of their services. In reality, the small businesses contacted never ordered or agreed to buy anything from the defendants and were never sent a bill. In many cases, the defendants’ telemarketers threatened that the business’s accounts would be turned over to “collections” or would be “red flagged.”
In some cases, even after a business paid money it did not owe, the defendants called back weeks later, sometimes claiming to be a different company demanding payment for other “outstanding invoices,” or claiming that the first payment was only the first installment.
Shortly after the FTC filed the complaint, the judge granted the agency’s request for a temporary restraining order against the defendants, halting their allegedly illegal conduct pending trial. A complete list of the individual and corporate defendants in this case can be found in the recently entered court order.