By Frank Lewis
November 15, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Officials of the Better Business Bureau are warning, “Often the ads listed at the top of a Google search may not be as legitimate as they appear.”
The BBB has learned Cincinnati based company Change My Address faces a lawsuit from two Attorney General offices for unethical business practices. The Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon citing consumer protection laws were violated. DeWine is asking civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, and restitution for all consumers harmed. So far, 661 complaints have been reported from across the country with more expected to surface.
Change My Address, owned by Form Giant, LLC in Blue Ash, posted a Google ad promoting they will change consumers address for a fee of $19.95. When users click on the ad, they are then asked for their credit card information. This same type of service is offered by the United States Postal Service for a charge of $1. Change My Address is not affiliated with the USPS.
“This business has agreed to make changes to its website, but complaints continue to come in,” DeWine said. “By law, businesses can’t misrepresent their services and they must clearly disclose important terms and conditions.”
Jocile Ehrlich, BBB President and CEO said BBB has attempted to work with representatives from the company since March, 2013 to resolve several consumer complaints. The complaints include the company does not perform the change of address service; the website looks like they are related to the USPS and consumers experience difficulty canceling and getting a refund once they realize that they aren’t related to the USPS and are charged $19.95 instead of $1.
“We have taken a proactive approach on behalf of the consumer encouraging the business to resolve the complaints we have received by meeting with the owners several times asking them to reconsider the way they were conducting business,” explained Jocile Ehrlich, BBB President and CEO.
Ehrlich added this is an example for consumers to take caution when using the internet for services. Often the ads listed at the top of a Google search may not be as legitimate as they appear. Watch for these warning signs:
Is the advertiser posing as someone else? Double-check web addresses and URL to make sure you’re not being redirected to other websites that may pose as legitimate business.
Does the offer make sense? Does the business offer its products and services in a way you’re comfortable with? If they offer to provide information or services that are otherwise available for a reduced rate, such as changing your address with the USPS or finding government grant listings, that may be a red flag.
Is the business safeguarding your privacy? Businesses should protect any sensitive data you provide them and they should disclose exactly what measures they take to do so. Additionally, they should tell you what information they collect, how they use it and be responsive to any requests you have about those practices. Specifically, look for https or the lock icon in the URL of the website to ensure the information you are reading is secure and if you do decide to move forward with a transaction, your information will remain secure.
Consumers who suspect an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov. And you can learn more information about BBB by visiting bbb.org.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT