Skip to main content

When websites prominently advertised “FREE!” golf balls and other gear, duffers and low-handicappers alike swung for the deal. But according to the FTC, 10 related defendants drove consumers into the rough with poorly disclosed terms and conditions, deceptive negative options, and misleading upsells, in violation of the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.

On their sites, the defendants pitched golf equipment, kitchen gadgets, and related subscription services – for example, online golf instructional videos. But according to the complaint, the defendants used illegal methods to sign consumers up for subscriptions they didn’t want and made unauthorized charges to their credit and debit cards for merchandise sent without their express approval.

Tactic #1:  The defendants prominently claimed that consumers could get merchandise – for example, Tour Z Golf Balls – for “FREE!” Under that was an “Add to Cart” button a consumer could click to take advantage of the offer. But according to the FTC, the golf balls weren’t really free. Consumers would be billed if they didn’t return them within a certain time. The lawsuit alleges that the true nature of the “free” offer wasn’t disclosed in a way consumers could see, read, and understand.

The complaint also charges that the defendants buried material terms – like the length of the trial period, the shipping fee, and how much consumers would be charged – in fine print at the bottom of the first page and surrounded by irrelevant stuff like additional product claims and the defendants’ copyright information. What’s more, those details were placed well below the “Add to Cart” button and without any visual cue telling consumers to scroll down. When people clicked “Add to Cart,” all they were told was that “other terms, conditions and restrictions may apply.”

Tactic #2The FTC also says the defendants made bundled offers that included one product combined with poorly explained “free trial offers” for one or more continuity plans. For example, when consumers bought the Culinary Torch (crème brulee anyone?), the complaint alleges that the defendants enrolled them in multiple “free trial” online subscription programs for recipes, coupons, etc. But like the golf ball deal, the FTC says the defendants deceptively hid the true nature of the programs – free for 30 (or 60) days and then consumers’ credit cards would get dinged $9.95 per month per program until they cancelled.

Tactic #3:  Then there were the upsells. In many cases, after submitting their billing information for an initial purchase, consumers had to click through as many as 14 upsell pages making negative option offers before reaching the final confirmation page. According to the FTC, the defendants disguised the true nature of those offers in dense blocks of fine print or obscure hyperlinks that didn’t clearly explain that consumer would be billed (and billed and billed) for those negative options.

If you can’t imagine how the defendants’ practices could get more confusing, try viewing the sites on a smartphone. The complaint alleges that the already confusing transactions were even harder to follow on the small screens of mobile devices.

For many consumers, their first inkling that they had been enrolled in a continuity program was when they saw unexpected charges on their credit card statements with cryptic descriptions like “JBEI,” “KAVI,” or “RMC.” The FTC says the defendants also didn’t make it easy for consumers who wanted to return a product, cancel recurring charges, or get a refund. For starters, the confirmation page didn’t disclose the seller’s name, how much consumers would be charged, the fact that consumers had been enrolled in a continuity program, and the steps to take to stop monthly charges. The complaint alleges that the defendants’ refund and return policies were similarly hard to find and hard to follow.

The lawsuit charges that the defendants violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting trial offers, failing to clearly disclose the terms of negative options, and failing to clearly disclose their return, refund, and cancellation policies. The FTC also alleges the defendants violated the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose all material terms of negative option-type transactions before obtaining consumers’ billing information, failing to get consumers’ express informed consent before charging them, and failing to offer a simple mechanism to stop recurring charges.

If your company makes “free” offers or uses negative options, this is a case to watch.  The lawsuit against AAFE Products Corp., JBE International, LLC, BSDC, Inc., KADC, Inc., Purestrike, Inc., BNRI Corp., Brian Bernheim, Joshua Bernheim, Jared Coates, and Robert Koch is pending in federal court in California.


It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system, and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system. We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.

The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

  • We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
  • We won’t post comments that include vulgar messages, personal attacks by name, or offensive terms that target specific people or groups.
  • We won’t post threats, defamatory statements, or suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity.
  • We won’t post comments that include personal information, like Social Security numbers, account numbers, home addresses, and email addresses. To file a detailed report about a scam, go to

We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

Get Business Blog updates