It’s called ROSCA – the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act – and it prohibits marketers from charging consumers for an online transaction unless the marketer has clearly disclosed all material terms of the deal and received the consumer’s express informed consent. Your e-commerce clients will want to know about the FTC’s first ROSCA case, filed recently in Nevada.
According to the lawsuit, Health Formulas, LLC and a tangle of related California- and Nevada-based companies and individuals – consumers may know them as Simple Pure Nutrition – pitched a variety of products for weight loss, muscle building, virility, and skin care. The defendants advertised diet supplements like Pure Green Coffee Bean Plus and RKG Extreme as a shortcut to drop the pounds: “Burn fat without diet or exercise,” “Extreme weight loss!” “Shed pounds fast!” “Super concentrated double fat burning,” etc. Among the defendants’ more colorful business names: Weight Loss Dojo, Longhorn Marketing (sorry, Texas fans), Black Bull, and Unleash the Thunder.
But unsubstantiated weight loss claims were just the start. The FTC says the defendants lured people in with bogus promises of a “free” trial or deceptive buy-one-get-one (BOGO) offers. Then they tricked consumers into giving their credit or debit card information with the false implication that consumers had to “just pay shipping.”
Digits in hand, the defendants really went to town, allegedly signing consumers up without their authorization for a negative option program that billed their accounts over and over again, to the monthly tune of between $60 and $210. The FTC says the defendants violated ROSCA by using a negative option feature without providing clear and conspicuous disclosures, getting the consumer’s express informed consent, and offering a simple mechanism for stopping the recurring charges.
The FTC’s complaint also cites the defendants’ hard-to-find and hard-to-understand fine-print “terms and conditions,” which consumers could reach only by scrolling through the equivalent of two printed pages and clicking on an obscure hyperlink. Assuming they found it – and that’s a big if – the typical “terms and conditions” document was 10 pages long. On some websites, consumers had to scroll down the payment page to see further fine-print disclosures about the cost of the products. The first sentence reiterated what consumers generally understood (“You must pay a shipping and handling fee of $4.95 for us to send you a full 30 day supply of Garcinia Cambogia Extract”) but it wasn’t until the middle of the paragraph that the defendants mentioned that the trial period lasts only 14 days, that it began when the items were shipped (not delivered), and that consumers would be charged after that. Other websites didn’t even include that information. According to the lawsuit, consumers who attempted to take the defendants up on their money-back guarantee were met with a series of undisclosed roadblocks.
In addition to the ROSCA counts, the FTC says the defendants’ practices violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by debiting consumers’ accounts on a recurring basis without their prior written authorization. What’s more, the complaint charges that the defendants continued to call people after being told to cut it out, in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule’s entity-specific Do Not Call provisions. The FTC says they also violated the TSR through a series of deceptive upsells.
A federal judge has entered a temporary restraining order and the FTC is seeking to put a permanent stop to the defendants’ illegal practices.
If your clients have ROSCA questions, the complaint offers the first example of how the FTC has used the statute. If your clients haven’t had ROSCA questions, maybe now is the time to remind them of what the law requires.