No Free Lunch

computer tablet2 150x150 No Free LunchMy mom’s favorite catchphrase when I was young: “There is no free lunch.” Kind of hard for a kid to understand, since you don’t pay for your own PB&J.

But Mom probably wouldn’t have believed that a company would offer “free” or “risk-free” products like acai berry supplements over the Internet with no financial loss to herself. And guess what? She’d have been right. I hate it when that happens.

According to a recent lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission, products offered “free” by companies associated with Canadian retailer Jesse Wilms weren’t really. Customers, the FTC says, were supposed to pay only shipping and handling, but ended up being charged subscription fees by the month—and Wilms and his companies allegedly raked in $450 million.

Some of the better-known companies associated with Wilms are:

• Wu-Yi Source
• eDirect Software
• Alberta Ltd. dba Swipebids.com and Swipeauctions.com

The penny auction websites, charges the FTC, led consumers to think they would get bonus bids for joining the sites. What they got were recurring monthly fees and bid fees for using the service, whether or not they won auctions.

As is typical for businesses operating in this manner, they generated a large volume of Better Business Bureau complaints in a short period of time. Better Business Bureaus serving the Los Angeles, Spokane, and Alberta, Canada areas became aware of the online activity, which generated large volumes of complaints in a short period of time. We then notified the FTC and Canada’s Competition Bureau. Since 2008, the BBB has processed over 4,000 complaints against companies associated with Wilms.

How Can I Purchase More Smartly Online?
*Read all terms and conditions. Before purchasing online, review the information to determine exactly what you’re paying for and how much it will cost. Also, discover any return or exchange and cancellation policies prior to purchase.

*Read your monthly credit card statements. You’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t agree to.

*Research the company. Visit www.bbb.org or search online to see what others are saying about the company, its marketplace conduct, products and its services.

View the entire FTC action against Jesse Wilms here:
http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1023012/index.shtm

What’s the Catch?
I don’t have the manual dexterity to move a pearl between three cups, but I know a shell game when I see one. Often consumers will ask BBB staff: But what is the catch? What could someone be trying to pry out of me? Usually it’s your money or your personal information—or both. Even if you don’t quite understand how a scam would work, it’s important to err on the side of caution.

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.