FTC returns money from online operation promising free gas

The company promised a free book, then billed customers for an online magazine, the agency alleges

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has begun to send more than 58,000 refund checks to consumers who lost money to Green Millionaire, a company that promised a free book explaining how to power cars and homes at no cost, but then billed customers for an online magazine they never ordered.

The agency is returning more than US$1.9 million it has recovered it its case against the company, the FTC said Friday. The amount recovered represents about 54 percent of consumers' estimated loss in the case, the agency said.

Victims of the operation will receive an average of $33.88 from the FTC, based on individual loss. People receiving checks from the FTC should cash them within 60 days, the FTC said.

The FTC filed a complaint against the San Francisco-based operation in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in April 2012.

The defendants in the case advertised and sold a book, called the "Green Millionaire Book," in 2009 and 2010, the FTC alleged. The defendants advertised that the book was free, but asked for a credit card to pay shipping and handling charges. The company then charged customers US $29.95 for a two-month membership, or $89.95 for a year membership, to the online magazine, the Green Millionaire Green Wealth Series, unless customers canceled within two weeks.

Information about the automatic magazine subscription was buried in Green Millionaire's online forms, the FTC alleged.

In advertisements for the book, the company promised customers they would learn how to get free gasoline and solar panels and make their electric meters run backward. The book did not deliver on those promises, the FTC alleged.

The Maryland court issued a permanent injunction against the company and other defendants in April 2012.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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