3 fined in web marketing complaint
Three Washington men who sold Internet marketing services to small businesses around the country were ordered to pay at least $471,500 in penalties, fines and restitution to customers who complained that they never got what they paid for.
Seattle Times staff reporterThree Washington men who sold Internet marketing services to small businesses around the country were ordered to pay at least $471,500 in penalties, fines and restitution to customers who complained that they never got what they paid for. King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector also ordered the men to tell the state's attorney general about any other complaints they received so that those customers can get refunds, too. "Web marketing services have long been a problem for people in this state and people around the country," said Paula Stelis, senior counsel with the Attorney General's Office and lead attorney in the suit. "There are legitimate companies who do legitimate website marketing. Unfortunately, these weren't one of them."
Attorney General Rob McKenna's office filed suit last year against Jeremy Avey, Alexander Martin and Brent Stanphill alleging violations of the state's Consumer Protection Act and the Commercial Telephone Solicitation Act.
Also named in the suit are companies the attorney general says the men operated: White Crane Technologies, White Crane Productions, TNT Cart, Strada Technologies, Cybercom Technologies and Wizy-Wiz eCommerce. The suit alleged that the companies misrepresented their services by not meeting deadlines for completing websites, failing to respond to complaints, and in some cases not delivering. Judge Spector's ruling on Friday covers 35 clients who were collectively owed $108,000. One of the defendants disputed the allegations in the suit, saying the attorney general failed to distinguish between the businesses, and in doing so, blew out of proportion the number of complaints against the company he was involved with. Alexander Martin, who now runs ABC eCommerce in Seattle, said his company, TNT, accounted for six of the 35 complaints outlined in the suit. TNT has resolved five of those complaints, and has issued refunds to those clients, he said Monday. Martin said the ruling was "difficult for me to stomach" because he feels he has done right by his customers. He acknowledged delays in responding to complaints to TNT and its affiliated company, Strada, but said he was disabled from a ski accident for a period of time when the complaints were filed. Avey and Stanphill could not be reached for comment Monday.
Marilynn Duke, 71, of Livonia, Mich., who is due for a $2,800 refund, said she was pleased by the ruling. Duke signed up with Cybercom after receiving several phone solicitations to improve the website for her home-based business and paid with the expectation that the site would be operational in six weeks. But the site never got to the point where it could be used for business, and when she demanded a refund, the company threatened to sue her, she said.
"But it wasn't just the money," she said. "I also spent unbelievable amount of hours trying to work with them." In the end, she pulled the plug on the business.
Stelis of the Attorney General's Office urged small businesses to do extensive research and ask for several references before purchasing web marketing services.
"When you get a call out of the blue promising the sun, the moon and the stars, you should do some research," Stelis said. "The more you're spending, the more research should be done."