FTC Bans Online US Electronics Retailer from Deceiving Consumers with .UK Domains

The Federal Trade Commission announced it reached a settlement putting a stop to the deceptive tactics of a Californian internet marketer that allegedly tricked British consumers into believing it was based in the United Kingdom by using websites with CO.UK domains. Under the settlement, the company also is banned from charging consumers for goods until they are in hand and ready to be shipped.The case was brought by the FTC under provisions added to the FTC Act by the U.S. SAFE WEB Act of 2006. SAFE WEB confirmed the agency’s authority to sue U.S.-based wrongdoers who harm consumers abroad, as part of a strategy to prevent the United States from becoming a haven for fraud.According to the FTC, California internet marketer Jaivin Karnani, his company, Balls of Kryptonite, and several associated companies, sold cameras, video games, and other electronic goods to thousands of British consumers. Because the defendants used websites with domain names such as bestpricedbrands.co.uk, bitesizedeals.co.uk, and crazycameras.co.uk, consumers believed they were buying from a company operating in the United Kingdom, and were therefore protected by manufacturer warranties that were valid there.The FTC’s complaint, filed in 2009, alleged that when consumers received the goods, they discovered they had been charged unexpected import duties, were left with invalid warranties, and would be charged draconian cancellation and refund fees if they attempted to return the merchandise. The defendants promised fast shipping dates, but usually did not meet those dates. Without the prior consent of consumers, as required by the FTC’s Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (Mail Order Rule), the defendants allegedly shipped the goods much later than promised. When customers tried to cancel these delayed orders, they were met with stiff resistance, no response at all, or otherwise had difficulty obtaining refunds.The FTC also charged the defendants with deceiving consumers about their participation in the EU/US Safe Harbor Framework – a voluntary international program that provides a means for U.S. companies to transfer data from the European Union to the United States, and to assure European customers that they secure the customers’ personal information as required by EU law.The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting: the location, quality, quantity, characteristics, and model numbers of products they sell; their compliance with or certification by government-sponsored information security programs; their policies regarding cancellation, exchange, or return; the existence of product warranties; and the total cost of the products sold.The FTC settlement order also prohibits the defendants from violating the Mail Order Rule, and it imposes a $500,000 judgement, which is suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay. If it is determined that the financial information the defendants gave the FTC was untruthful, the full amount of the judgement will become due.More information is available from the FTC website here.