The FTC has basically destroyed Jesse Willms, the famous Canadian Acai peddler. In a settlement order, that is part of the FTC’s campaign on affiliate and online marketing scams, basically bans Willms from ever operating in a similar manner in the US. His offer, including a penny auction scam, ran on dozens of affiliate CPA networks.
The settlement also fines him $359 Million in cash, which will be suspended as long as Willms turns over pretty much everything that he owns. The order requires him to sell his house, close and sell all his companies, cars, furs, and expensive artwork.
The Willms settlement order also permanently prohibits Willms from ever engaging in any business that works by:
- debiting consumers’ bank accounts without first obtaining their express verifiable authorization;
- misrepresenting any product or service or the terms and conditions associated with any offer, specifically including claims of “free,” “risk-free,” or “trial offer;”
- failing to clearly disclose the terms and conditions of any offer, including refund terms, before requesting consumers’ payment information;
- making misleading or unsubstantiated disease-prevention, weight-loss, and other health-related claims;
- using false or deceptive endorsements and testimonials;
- failing to monitor the activities of marketing affiliates and affiliate networks involved in the marketing of any Willms product or service; and
- making misrepresentations in order to obtain services from payment processors, banks, and other third parties.
The fact that almost four million consumers fell prey to the lure of these ‘free trial’ offers is a stark reminder that ‘free’ offers can come at a huge price,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC has stopped about $1 billion in online marketing fraud during the past two years by shutting down operations like this. But consumers still need to beware, because scam artists are constantly coming up with new ways to deceive people online.”
According to the settlement, Canadian Authorities including the Canadian Competition Bureau were involved in the investigation against Willms.
“International collaboration is increasingly important for enforcement agencies combating deceptive practices online,” said Lisa Campbell, Deputy Commissioner of Competition for the Competition Bureau. “The Bureau worked with the FTC as part of our ongoing investigation into alleged misleading representations by Mr. Willms and his companies.