- by Carolyne Volpe Curley / Carolyne@WestEssexNOW.com
Online accounts credit the company with being the oldest existing direct-marketing company in the country. It is said to have been founded in 1983 by Ajit J. Khubani. The New Jersey native started the company in Roanoke, VA , and then in 1998 reportedly moved it to Fairfield. The business location is 79 Two Bridges Rd, Fairfield.
From 2012 through July 2014, the Division of Consumer Affairs has reportedly received 340 consumer complaints regarding Telebrands’ business practices. The state asserts the company is engaging in unconscionable commercial practices and is specifically citing Telebrands for violating the Consumer Fraud Act by:
- its practice of aggressively upselling products through its automated phone system and websites
- failing to provide means for consumers to opt out of the ordering process
- shipping and billing for products not ordered by consumers
- using misleading advertisements
- making false promises and/or misrepresentations
- knowingly omitting material facts
- violating the terms of a 2001 Final Consent Judgment and Order that resolved prior litigation with the state and required the company to comply with the Consumer Fraud Act
“As demonstrated by its alleged actions,
Telebrands cannot be trusted to do right by its customers or
to even honor its own 2001 pledge to follow our
consumer protection laws,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.
“We are bringing this action to end the abusive business practices that Telebrands allegedly is inflicting upon consumers.”
Over several months, Consumer Affairs investigators made undercover purchases of products advertised and offered for sale by Telebrands, including “Instabulbs,” the “Olde Brooklyn Lantern” and the “Pocket Hose.” The purchases were made through the Telebrands websites as well as through toll-free numbers featured in the company’s infomercials.
One of the complaints focuses on the aggressive solicitation of orders places through the phone system. Reportedly when placing the order, investigators could only access an automated phone system and not a live customer service representative. They contend that the during the ordering process which took sometimes over 30 minutes,they were continuously offered additional products to purchase without being able to decline the offer; in one case they were offered seven other products to purchase.
Additionally, prior to authorizing credit card charges, the phone system failed to provide a confirmation for the merchandise that was purchased The state alleges that the investigators were charged for additional merchandise, which was shipped to them at additional cost, that they did not purchase.
Furthermore, the complaint alleges that Telebrands failed to inform their customers of the company's purchase, cancellation and return policies and failed to provide them as well with the total cost of their orders.
Investigators also allege that while placing orders over Telebrand's website, they were not given the opportunity to edit their virtual shopping cart. Reportedly, again this practice resulted in receiving products that they did not want or intend to order.
The state asserts that during the investigation, Telebrands allegedly failed to inform consumers when they were completing their merchandise order and authorizing charges and that they made it difficult for consumers to decline further purchases by using small text and a light color on the “No Thanks” link and they also charged consumers more than the total reflected in the summary of charges.
Additionally, the state’s complaint alleges that once customers received the items that they did not intend to purchase, they were not provided with instructions on how to return of items. Those who returned the items to the company were made to do so at their own expense. Consumers reported to Consumer Affairs that they had difficulty contacting and communicating with live customer service representatives and were placed on hold for lengthy periods of time and even disconnected.
After they finally reached a Telebrands representative, the investigator was then told to call another toll-free number, which connected him to the automated phone system. After being placed on hold, the investigator did speak with a customer service representative, who wanted his credit card number; the investigator instead asked for the supervisor and the supervisor also asked for his credit card number. The refund policy on the company’s web site stated that a credit card was not needed.
Automatic Payment Processing Violation
While purchasing the Pocket Hose, the investigator was asked by the automatic phone system to provide an email address. Reportedly, two days later the investigator received an email under the heading of “Welcome to Everyday Family Savings.”The email stated that he would be enrolled in the “Everyday Family Savings” program at a cost of $19.95, which would automatically renew each month unless he called that day to cancel. The state alleges that during the order of the Pocket Hose, the investigator was not informed that he was being enrolled in the “Everyday Family Savings” program.
“This action against Telebrands alleges that consumers were repeatedly pressured
through gimmickry misrepresentations and high-pressure sales tactics
to buy products they didn’t want,” Acting Consumer Affairs Director Steve Lee said.
“What’s just as unconscionable is that
when consumers attempted to return unwanted products and obtain refunds,
they allegedly couldn’t reach actual customer service representatives
and were subjected to return policies that differed
from what was represented in ads and on the company’s web site.”
The state is seeking restitution for the affected consumers, plus civil penalties and reimbursement of its investigative costs and attorneys’ fees. The Consumer Fraud Act provides for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. Based upon Telebrands’ violation of the 2001 consent judgment, the state is seeking enhanced civil penalties, in an amount of up to $20,000 for each violation.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 1-800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200.
Investigator Elizabeth Perry in the Division of Consumer Affairs Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation, assisted by Investigator Michael Meola. Deputy Attorney General Natalie A. Serock in the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section of the Division of Law is representing the state in this action.