Wily deception. Masters of impersonation. International intrigue. We could be describing PBS’ re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, but we’re not. We’re talking about a scam that’s been around almost as long as the famous resident of 221B Baker Street – and still leaves small businesses barking like the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Ask most people to name the streets in the neighborhood where they grew up and they’ll tell you Maple Lane or Sycamore Drive. Ask a military kid – ask this military kid – and she’ll mention Tank Destroyer Boulevard and Hell on Wheels Avenue. Years ago, if you drove down Tank Destroyer and exited the East Gate of Fort Hood, the neon signs advertising “zero down,” “E-Z credit,” or “low monthly payments” lit up the Central Texas sky like a discount aurora borealis.
There are certain questions we ask ourselves when investigating companies’ health claims. Did they have appropriate substantiation? Did they tell the truth when they said their claims were supported by scientific studies? Did they clearly disclose that product endorsers were getting a piece of the pie?
If there’s one theme that runs through decades of FTC law, it’s that companies need consumers’ informed consent to bill their accounts. That was true in the early days of mail order. It carried through to online shopping. And it remains the law for mobile devices, including in-app purchases. The FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon alleges the company didn’t honor that elementary principle.