Look what I found on the State of Vermont Attorney General's Web Site! I wish I had known about the settlement sooner. Even though I've missed the claims deadline, we can still shut them down before they hurt too many others. This is one small business person who'll sleep better tonight!
STATE OF VERMONT
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
109 STATE STREET
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Elliot Burg, Assistant Attorney General
March 21, 2002 (802) 828-2153
ATTORNEY GENERAL SETTLES CONSUMER FRAUD CLAIMS AGAINST CANADIAN TELEMARKETERS
Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his office has settled consumer fraud claims against two Montreal-based telemarketers that sell listings in business-to-business directories. W.W.S. World Wide Source Publishing, Inc. ("WWS") and Ameri-Source Publications, Inc. ("Ameri-Source") will together pay a total of $125,000 to the State of Vermont and provide refunds to all of their Vermont customers.
In a lawsuit filed in Chittenden Superior Court in November 2001, the Attorney General alleged that WWS and five of its chief officers had systematically violated the Vermont Consumer Fraud Act in the course of selling listings in a directory called the "American Business Index." According to the Attorney General's complaint, WWS, using a Vermont return address, solicited orders for two-year listings in its directory for $399.95, by means of outbound telemarketing calls to businesses throughout the United States. Over 100 of those customers complained to the State of Vermont.
The court complaint alleged that WWS violated the Consumer Fraud Act by:
Misrepresenting that the company offers renewals of listings in the local Yellow Pages, when in fact it offers primarily new listings in a non-local directory of limited circulation.
Overstating the circulation of the directory as 1 million, when in fact it is closer to 35,000.
Misrepresenting WWS' location by using local Vermont addresses in Alburg and Williston in all dealings with customers.
Billing many customers without their authorization. This is an actual sample of listings in the 'American Business Index' published by World Wide Source (enclarged so you can read it). Try to find an auto mechanic and you will have to wade through a list of shops that are not organized by location or specialty -- just an alphabetized, very incomplete listing.
Failing to provide customers with their legally-required three-day right to cancel.
Overcharging customers for a directory that is of limited value to most businesses.
Ameri-Source, a company which shares common management and ownership with WWS and uses a return address in New York State, also telemarkets listings in a business-to-business directory.
The Attorney General's settlement is contained in a Consent Decree approved this week by the Chittenden Superior Court. Although they have denied any wrongdoing, under the Consent Decree WWS, Ameri-Source and their President, Pavlos Angelatos, are barred from doing business in or into Vermont, or using a business address or facilities in the state.
Also, by April 1, 2002, WWS and Ameri-Source must send refunds to all of its customers in Vermont; or, where payment records are unavailable, Vermont businesses listed in a directory must be sent a letter offering a refund upon proof of payment.
Finally, the Consent Decree requires WWS to pay the State $79,000 ($59,000 in penalties and $20,000 in fees and costs), and Ameri-Source to pay the State $46,000 ($36,000 in penalties and $10,000 in fees and costs)for a total of $125,000.
In addition, out-of-state customers of WWS will have until September 30, 2002, to send a written complaint to the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) at Morrill Hall, UVM, Burlington, VT 05405, and receive a refund.
Commenting on the settlement, Attorney General Sorrell noted that his office will continue to take tough action against fraudulent telemarketersincluding out-of-state and out-of-country companies that pose as Vermont companies by using a local mailing address. "Companies like this undermine Vermont's good name. We are taking a hard line against fraudulent telemarketing, especially where it hurts Vermont residents or threatens to tarnish the Vermont business community's reputation for honesty."
For further information on the settlement, businesses can contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424 or 656-3183 (in Chittenden County)
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