FTC Shakes 'Google Money Tree'
Four individuals who allegedly ran the "Google Money Tree" scam have agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint. The defendants also agreed to refrain from selling goods or products through negative option contracts, which involve enrolling consumers in paid-subscription plans and charging the credit cards of Web users who don't opt out.
The settlement, recently filed with the U.S. District Court in Nevada, resolves a complaint filed by the FTC last summer against Jonathan Eborn, Stephanie Burnside, Michael McLain Miller and Tony Norton (and companies affiliated with them) alleging that they tricked consumers into signing up for monthly subscriptions to work-at-home kits. The defendants allegedly made it appear that they were affiliated with Google by marketing programs with names like "Google Money Tree" and "Google Treasure Chest."
The FTC alleged that the defendants lured consumers into providing credit card numbers by promising people that they could rake in up to $100,000 in six months. But consumers were not adequately informed that once they made a purchase, they would automatically be enrolled in a program that charged them more than $70 each month.
The defendants agreed to turn over cash and a colorful array of assets, including interests in a Super Air Nautique 230 towboat and a 2004 Harley Davidson Road King, and a collection of nine guns.
The scam, probed by the FTC, appears to be a variation on other work-at-home schemes that draw on Google's name. The company itself also is pursuing a trademark infringement lawsuit against companies that allegedly promise consumers they can earn money by purchasing training kits for phony "Google AdWork" and "Google ATM" programs.