Monday, August 13, 2018
Defendants deceptively marketed a “system” to make money on Amazon
The Federal Trade Commission and the State of Minnesota have charged Minnesota-based Sellers Playbook with running a large business opportunity scheme. A federal court temporarily halted the operation pending resolution of the case.
The FTC and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office allege that Sellers Playbook lured consumers into buying its expensive “system” by claiming that purchasers were likely to earn thousands of dollars per month selling products on Amazon. The company used false and unsubstantiated claims, such as make“$20,000 a month” and “Potential Net Profit: $1,287,463.38.” Few, if any, consumers achieved these results, and most lost money.
The defendants are Sellers Playbook Inc., Exposure Marketing Company (also doing business as Sellers Online and Sellers Systems), and Jessie Conners Tieva and Matthew R. Tieva, who have owned and managed these companies. According to the FTC and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the defendants, who have no affiliation with Amazon.com, took in more than $15 million from consumers from April 2017 to May 2018. Many consumers paid them more than $32,000.
Jessie Conners Tieva and Exposure Marketing Company previously promoted, sold and benefited from a similar scheme, known as FBA Stores, which ceased operation in March 2018 as a result of an FTC enforcement action. In June 2018, its key operators were banned from selling business opportunities and business coaching services, and required to surrender approximately $10.8 million for return to consumers. The defendants in the case announce today were not defendants in the FBA Stores case.
The defendants are charged with violating the FTC Act, the Business Opportunity Rule, the Minnesota Prevention of Consumer Fraud Act, and the Minnesota Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. They are also charged with violating the Consumer Review Fairness Act through contracts that improperly sought to restrict consumers’ right to review the products and services they purchased.
The Commission vote approving the complaint was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on July 30, 2018, and a preliminary injunction hearing is currently scheduled for August 13, 2018.
This case was brought with the assistance of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service for the District of Minnesota, Amazon.com, Inc., and the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Consumers can report complaints about similar situations to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787. They can also download a complaint form from www.ag.state.mn.us and mail the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
The operators of a scheme that sold “secrets for making money on Amazon” are banned from marketing and selling business opportunities and business coaching services under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, and they will surrender millions of dollars for return to consumers.
According to the FTC, the defendants, who have no affiliation with Amazon.com, falsely claimed their “Amazing Wealth System” would enable consumers to create a profitable online business selling products on Amazon. Buyers, however, did not earn the advertised income. Most of them lost significant amounts of money, and many often experienced problems with their Amazon stores, including suspension and the loss of their ability to sell on Amazon.com.
The settlement order also bans the defendants from making false earnings claims. It imposes a judgment of more than $102 million, which will be partially suspended when they have surrendered approximately $10.8 million to the FTC. The order also prohibits them from profiting from consumers’ personal information collected as part of the scheme, and failing to dispose of it properly.
The defendants are Adam Bowser, Christopher Bowser, Jody Marshall, AWS LLC, FBA Distributors LLC, FBA Stores LLC, Info Pros LLC, Info Solutions LLC, Online Auction Learning Center Inc. (Massachusetts), and Online Auction Learning Center Inc. (Nevada).
This case was brought with the invaluable assistance of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Utah County Attorney’s Office (Bureau of Investigations), Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Lindon City Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, and Amazon.com, Inc.
The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated final order was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada entered the order on June 15, 2018.
Online ads and in-person workshops for Sellers Playbook claim to offer “secrets” to making big money on Amazon. But like a lot of namedroppers, the truth doesn’t live up to the hype. That’s what the FTC and the Minnesota Attorney General allege in a lawsuit they filed.
According to the complaint, Sellers Playbook lures consumers in with promises like “Potential Net Profit: $1,287,463.38” and “Starting with $1000…1 year later over $210,000,” but the FTC and AG say few people – if anybody – make that kind of money, despite shelling out thousands to learn the company’s so-called secrets. What’s more, Sellers Playbook has no affiliation with Amazon other than dropping the online giant’s name in its ads.
If the tactics sound familiar, that’s because some of the defendants behind Sellers Playbook were affiliated with Amazing Wealth Systems, a venture whose bogus big-money claims were the subject of an FTC lawsuit earlier this year.
The FTC and the Minnesota AG have charged Sellers Playbook with making misleading earnings claims. The FTC also says the defendants have violated the Business Opportunity Rule, a consumer protection provision that requires sellers of money-making ventures to disclose certain facts up front to people thinking about signing up. In addition, the lawsuit alleges the defendants violated the Consumer Review Fairness Act – a new law that bans contract provisions that try to silence consumers from posting their honest opinions about a company’s products or customer service.
Thinking about sinking your savings into a business opportunity? Don’t make a move without consulting a person you trust in your community and considering these suggestions from the FTC. And here’s a tip from in-the-know entrepreneurs: If the promoter of a business opportunity doesn’t give you the disclosure document required by the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, that alone should sound an alarm. If they’re not honoring those basic legal requirements, can you trust their money-making promises? Probably not.