Online Consumer Fraud

When looking for a business to hire – whether it’s a plumber, contractor, lawyer, doctor, or car mechanic – dependency on internet reviews has increased over the last decade and has replaced to a large degree the more traditional process of asking friends and family for recommendations. We rely on the reviews and the businesses’ claimed website credentials, like work experience, community affiliations and special licensing, to entice us to contact them.

The businesses know that we rely on their reviews and website pictures, awards, licenses, and industry memberships. They tailor their web designs to get us to call. Unfortunately, it has become more common place for businesses to adopt an online marketing model based on deceit that includes false reviews and misleading website content but with a local feel and familiar context. This is occurring throughout the country and in Baldwin County, Alabama and our hometowns of Foley, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Summerdale, Robertsdale, Lillian, Elberta, Fairhope and Daphne.

Often these scam businesses are smaller outfits that seek to attract people online by promising quick responses and competitive prices. They often offer a service or product that is moderate in price. Their strategy is to talk a good game, make promises about timeframes for completion, get a signature on a contract, and a down payment from the victim. Typically, the job does not proceed timely and/or the quality of work is substandard. This begins a period of promises to remedy the problems, alternated with threats for payment, including liens and lawsuits. They count on you not having the ability to hire a lawyer out of pocket or by the hour to represent you. They also know that few lawyers are interested in helping you on a contingency fee arrangement because the damages may be relatively small.

These companies are often franchises that have been assisted by the corporate franchisor to learn how to fake reviews and website content.

Alabama common law and specific Alabama Statutes, including Alabama Unlawful Trade Practices Act (§ 8-19-5) can provide a remedy for victimized people who’ve been misled by online businesses.

It is also possible to pursue a claim for damages directly against the online huckster based on proof out of pocket losses like the cost of having to hire another legitimate business to complete or redo the unacceptable work. Punitive damages for fraud are also sometimes available as well as damages for mental anguish. These claims may be pursued against the corporate franchisor as well. Courts have held contracts dealing with residences are in a special category and are exceptions to the general damages rule applied in contract cases which prohibit recovery for mental anguish.

This is an ever-increasing problem and another example of scammers using the internet to defraud consumers.

Please give me a call if you feel that you have been the target of an online business fraud.

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