New York-based office supply scheme charged small businesses millions of dollars for supposedly free samples of cleaning and other products
At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court judge permanently halted a New York-based office supply scam operated by a business known as A-1 Janitorial. In late 2017, the FTC charged the defendants with targeting small businesses and charging them for supposedly free samples of cleaning and other products.
Under the court order settling the FTC’s charges, the defendants are barred from such illegal conduct and will pay $2.7 million for consumer refunds.
“The defendants tricked small businesses into paying for products they didn’t order and free samples that weren’t free,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re committed to taking action against schemes that target small businesses, and we have free – actually free – resources to help them avoid fraud at ftc.gov/smallbusiness.”
According to the FTC’s October 2017 complaint, the defendants called small businesses throughout the United States and Canada, offered a free sample of a cleaning or other office product, shipped the sample to those businesses, and then billed them for the full cost of the product, even when they refused to accept it. The defendants’ invoices typically named an employee in the targeted business or organization, which led many recipients to pay since they thought the employee had ordered the products.
After the first shipment, the defendants often sent additional shipments and new invoices. Consumers who complained were told the extra shipments were part of the initial order. Some consumers paid just to stop the defendants’ repeated contacts, but more shipments then followed. The defendants often denied refund requests, claiming that, as chemicals, their cleaning products could not be returned.
The court order settling the FTC’s charges bars the A-1 Janitorial defendants from misrepresenting that they will send consumers a sample of their goods at no cost, that consumers have ordered and agreed to pay for goods shipped to them, and any other material fact.
In connection with their telemarketing efforts, the order bars the defendants from: 1) misrepresenting the total cost to buy, receive, or use the goods, including by falsely offering a free sample; 2) making false and misleading statements to induce any consumer to pay for goods or services, or to make a charitable contribution; and 3) failing to disclose that the purpose of the call is to sell goods or services.
The order also prohibits the defendants from shipping unordered merchandise, except for clearly marked free samples, and from billing or contacting consumers seeking payment for unordered merchandise or free samples.
Finally, the order imposes a $2.7 million judgment against the defendants, to provide refunds to defrauded consumers. It also prohibits the defendants from collecting payments from consumers for any goods or services sold before November 2, 2017.
The Commission vote approving the proposed court order was 5-0. A complete list of the settling defendants appears in the order. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, has now entered the final order.
The FTC would like to thank the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, the Office of the Kansas Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureaus of Chicago and Northern Illinois, Manitoba and North West Ontario, New Jersey, and Metropolitan New York for their invaluable assistance in this matter.
NOTE: Stipulated final orders or injunctions, etc. have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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