Ever see one of those "free trial" offers for acai berry products, colon cleansers or weight loss supplements and thought to yourself, "That has to be too good to be true,"? Well, your instincts were right on target and today the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, announced that it had taken one of the worst health scammers out of commission by permanently banning Jesse Willms and his companies from using what are known as "negative option" practices.
The way this scam worked was that Willms and his business partners offered people free trials of products like acai berry products, colon cleansers and teeth whiteners. (He also ran programs offering work-at-home jobs, free credit reports, penny auctions and more.)
But people who took Willms up on his "free" offers often found that they weren't free after all. Willms employed a marketing technique known as "negative option marketing". Basically, if you fell for one of his scams and didn't actively fight to cancel your account before your trial period ran out you would be charged a monthly fee for "bonus" offers. Those fees ran $80 a month (or more) and most consumers didn't realize they would be charged those fees when they signed up for the "free" trial, said the FTC when they first filed the suit.
Back in September the courts issued a preliminary injunction against Willms and now that order has been made permanent. It doesn't put Willms or his companies out of business completely but it does bar him from offering any more "free" trials unless they're truly free. Willms can no longer debit his customers' bank accounts with their specific permission, make "misleading" claims about how his products work or use phony "testimonials" to hawk his garbage.
Willms and his associates are thought to have bilked consumers in the US, Canada and New Zealand out of 467 million dollars.