People-search website accused of deception

It took nearly a year before Isaac and Mika Turner of Northfield, Minn., noticed the $19.95 monthly charges on their credit card. Now the couple has sued Intelius, a popular people-search website, for signing them up for a service they never wanted.

The suit, filed Dec. 10 in Hennepin County, accuses Intelius of deceiving the Turners into signing up for an identity theft protection service when they thought they were paying about $2 to get an unlisted phone number for an old friend. After Isaac Turner entered his debit card information, a misleading screen popped up that Turner thought was prompting him to click through to get the information he sought, according to the lawsuit.

But he was in fact agreeing to pay for an identity-theft protection service, according to the lawsuit. Turner was never billed for the $1.95 purchase, but he didn't discover what he had signed up for until he had racked up $239.40 in charges.

"For us it's not the end of the world that our money has been taken from us, but for others that have been affected, there have likely been overdraft fees and other bank charges which together with the money taken by Intelius may have put some people into really bad financial places especially during these tough economic times,” Mika Turner said in a statement.

“I hope that we can raise awareness of Intelius's practices and get the money that has been taken from Minnesotans returned to those who have been affected by their practices.”

"We disagree with the lawsuit and will defend ourselves in the court of law," Intelius spokesman Jim Cullinan said. The allegations are familiar. In August, Intelius agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a complaint brought by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna on behalf of 20,000 customers who were charged for monthly services. According to McKenna's investigation, only about 7 percent of the 800,000 Intelius customers enrolled in the identity-theft protection program nationwide actually used a membership benefit.

Intelius, which is based in Bellevue, Wash., did not admit to the allegations that it tricked these customers, but agreed to change its sales tactics.

Dori Handy, a Minneapolis lawyer who represents the Turners, said the company hasn't changed much. "You could never get away with this at a regular brick-and-mortar store," Handy said.

Last month, Congress put new restrictions on these "post transaction" advertising practices, limiting the ability of third-party sellers from piggybacking on online purchases.

A blow to spoofing

Also in its busy lame duck session, Congress took a stand against spoofing, that infuriating practice in which telemarketers and scammers hide their real phone numbers. Those who fool caller ID for nefarious purposes will face $10,000 fines per violation, under the "Truth in Caller ID Act," which passed the House with bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama Dec. 22.

The bill makes exemptions for police or intelligence activities and for organizations such as battered women's shelters, the Associated Press reported.

 

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