-- Shopper Systems advertised mystery shopper opportunities through text messages, websites, phone calls and other methods, the FTC said. The company said customers could earn $50 per mystery shopping assignment, but the opportunities "remained a mystery" even after customers paid Shopper Systems, Vladeck said.
Customers who agreed to pay Shopper Systems were "lured" into another business opportunity, operating a Web store, that resulted in monthly charges on their credit cards, the FTC said.
Shopper Systems offered training for $2.95 and a seven-day trial period for the mystery shopping program, and then charged $49.95 per month for a list of interested merchants, with an option to cancel at any time without further obligation. The defendants charged $3.95 for the Web store opportunity, with a 14-day trial period and a cost of $49.95 per month, and often enrolled consumers without their awareness, the FTC alleged.
Consumers who canceled the mystery shopper membership were still billed monthly $49.95 charges and were later told they had to cancel both programs, the FTC alleged.
In late October, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a temporary restraining order halting the mystery shopper program and froze the company's assets. Shopper Systems, contacted through its Facebook page, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
-- Rebate Data Processor and Christopher Andrew Sterling, doing business as Rebatedataprocessor.com, Sterlingvisa.com, and Creditcardworker.com, told customers they could earn $200 to $1,000 a day by processing applications for rebates or credit cards. Instead, the company provided information on how to become an affiliate marketer by creating their own Internet ads for credit card offers, the FTC alleged.
Sterling charged about $50 for the program, the FTC said. The company said its customers could earn "$15,526 in 29 days," but few, if any, customers were likely to achieve the promised levels of income, the FTC said. The company misrepresented the nature of the business opportunity, and sold an opportunity in the complicated and highly competitive field of affiliate marketing, the agency said.
Sterling sometimes failed to provide any information in return for a purchase, the FTC added. The company, contacted at Rebatedataprocessor.com, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The FTC referred the case to the DOJ, which filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
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 e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.