A year after federal regulators received a court order temporarily shutting down a group of marketers allegedly using deceptive online “risk-free trials” to entice customers into buying skincare products, the agency officially received orders barring the companies and their operators from using the deceptive tactics to promote their products.
The Federal Trade Commission announced Thursday that 29 defendants who sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit branded skincare products agreed to court orders with the FTC or had default orders entered against them.
According to the original complaint [PDF], filed in June 2015 and amended in Oct. 2015 to add eight additional companies, the California-based marketers allegedly used deceptive offers to trick consumers into providing their credit or debit card information to charge them full price for the product and enroll them in recurring programs for additional fees.
Like the equally deceptive weight loss supplement marketing schemes, these marketers used pop-up advertisements, banner ads, and advertising space on third-party websites – including Amazon.com, Huffingtonpost.com, and Lowes.com – to tout “risk-free trial” offers to direct consumers to their websites.
The sites – aurviefreetrial.com, auraviewtrialkit.com, and mymiraclekit.com, just to name a few – then instructed visitors to provide their credit or debit card information to pay shipping fees of $4.95 to receive the trial offer.
The companies also used deceptive pop-up advertisements that discourage consumers from leaving their websites without accepting a trial offer. If customers attempted to leave, a text box appeared, offering to ship the trial offer at an even lower shipping price.
Customers who did pay for the free trail say they were charged far more than the stipulated shipping fees.
The FTC alleges that, unbeknownst to customers, the companies often charged full-price for the product – at times up to $97.88 – on a recurring monthly basis, thanks in part to terms hidden in the fine print on the websites.
When customers attempted to cancel their trial and unwanted subscription plans, the marketers made it extremely difficult.
For example, the “100% satisfaction guarantee” touted by the companies only allowed customers to return opened products within 10 days of the purchase. However, the products generally didn’t arrive until after – or nearly after – that 10-day window.
Additionally, the companies failed to disclose that returns of unopened products could only be made within 30 days of purchase.
Since the time the FTC filed its complaints, it has approved five court orders that bar the companies from selling products through a “negative option,” in which the consumer’s silence is interpreted as consent to receive and pay for goods and services.
The orders also bar them from future deception and credit card laundering, and requires the companies from surrendering virtually all of their assets to the FTC, totaling over $2.7 million.
by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist