Alleged Snake-oil Salesmen Sued by State of Washington
Amid the flurry of blog posts covering PubCon last week, I totally missed the news that an Internet marketing services provider is being sued by the Washington state attorney general. The suit against Redmond-based Visible.net, along with sister companies Captures.com and WebMarketingSource.com and company owner Gilbert Walker, was filed last Wednesday and accuses the defendants of breaking state consumer protection and telemarketing laws.
In an environment where snake-oil salesmen threaten the very viability of the industry, most marketers aren’t afraid to point fingers when they see a particularly nasty case of trickery underfoot. I’m not calling us tattle tales — just conscious, industrious individuals looking out for the health of the industry as a whole. While one bad apple won’t spoil the barrel, if a few mushy rotten ones are picked up and bitten into, no one will buy the rest of the harvest when the FDA is forced to close down the orchard after a poisonous apple scare sweeps the nation! [V, were you traumatized by an apple pie or something when you were little?--Susan]
Okay, I don’t even know where to go after that apple-themed diatribe. Moving on.
According to the filed complaint, the charges against Visible.net and crew include:
- Misrepresenting the ability to significantly increase traffic to customer Web sites by achieving top search engine rankings for customer Web sites.
- Falsely promising an increase in sales through the use of the defendant’s services.
- Misrepresenting affiliations with other marketing companies in order to sell services to prospective customers.
- Falsely promising 24-hour service support when many customers were unable to reach the defendants or never received return calls.
- Failing to honor refunds or cancel services upon the customer’s request.
- Failing to provide agreed upon services, like site designs or status reports.
Yikes! This is like the curriculum for Snake-oil Salesmen 101.
Visible.net has responded to the lawsuit, asserting that the allegations are misinformed and based on “speculation and innuendo” coming from the company’s competitors. Hard to believe considering the attorney general is taking action based on almost 90 complaints about the defendants since 2005. Ninety complaints over three years may not seem like a lot, but then again, think of how many times you’ve been reported to the attorney general’s office. That’s what I thought.
There’s a discussion going on over at WebmasterWorld about the story, and there seems to be a common thread throughout the comments: it’s the scammers that steal business away from hard-working and honest Internet marketers. The lofty promises of first-position rankings in a matter of months lure clients away from legitimate SEOs, and everyone but the scam artist gets hurt in the process. Until now. We’ll have to wait to see how this injunction suit plays out, but if the allegations are true, I know a few thousand people who will be thrilled to see a little justice served — and a little face saved in the process.