It’s probably happened to you. You get this offer, either in the mail or via the Internet. There’s this wonderful selection of products-books, CDs, cosmetics, whatever-that you just can’t resist. So you sign up based on the initial offer, and then-bingo!-they want you to buy a very limited array of products that you probably would never have considered in the first place. For many buyers, the company keeps sending products no matter what you say or do and keeps charging you for them. No matter what you say, they threaten to send your “account” to a collection agency and ruin your credit if you don’t pay them whatever they want.
In my case I joined One Spirit Book Club a couple of years ago based on an Internet promotion. The offer provided a variety of genres, including what I would call “mainstream fiction”, and those were the books that I chose. A couple of historical fictions, a Grisham thriller, and a couple of murder mysteries. Then, for more than a year I looked at the books subsequently offered in their emails. They were exclusively what I would consider “spiritual” or “self-help” non-fiction. Not once did I find anything close to the mainstream fiction I purchased under that promotion-yet the offer did not state that their actual products were limited to those genres of non-fiction. I finally figured out One Spirit was indeed not offering what their promotion had promised to me as a consumer, and ignored the emails from that point on.
Since then, they have sent numerous letters demanding I buy more books. I wrote to a manager, Frank Lombardi, explaining that I wanted the books I had been promised in their promotion, because what they had done was false advertising. In the spirit of doing the right thing, One Spirit immediately turned my account over to a collection agency, which is threatening to ruin my credit rating.
It is well known that outright fraud, such as lying about what is being offered, is illegal in any situation. It is just as illegal to misrepresent what goes to the core of what the consumer expects in future transactions. A softer problem is deception. At best, One Spirit’s promotion was a “bait and switch”, offering mainstream fiction in their introductory offer when they had no intention of ever having it again under the membership fulfillment terms. While I will make no commentary on the types of publications they do offer, they are definitely not mainstream fiction, nor or they of the sort that I would ever bother to read.
The main federal laws governing false advertising are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and the Lanham Act. Here is a brief summary:
“Under the FTC Act, false advertising includes advertisements that make representations that the advertiser has no reasonable basis to believe, even if the representations turn out to be true. Private parties, such as consumers or competitors, can file a complaint for false advertising under the Lanham Act. To establish a violation under the Lanham Act, consumers and competitors must prove the following: (1) the advertiser made false statements of fact about its product; (2) the false advertisements actually deceived or had the capacity to deceive a substantial segment of the target population; (3) the deception was material; (4) the falsely advertised product was sold in interstate commerce; and (5) the party bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) was injured as a result of the deception. Injury is construed as a likelihood of injury, rather than actual injury.”
At this point, having suffered injury from their false advertising, I intend to file suit. However, I am inviting a class-action suit, as I’m certain there are people who are just as irritated at One Spirit, and other such misleading companies, as I am. There is only one way to get these people to stop their underhanded tactics, and that is to fight them in court.