SEATTLE - Oct. 24, 2002 - A company that promised consumers they could make money viewing advertising over the Internet will now use the Internet to offer restitution to the same consumers.
In a settlement with the Attorney General's High Tech Unit, Seattle-based 180 Solutions Inc., will be required to spread the word of its consumer restitution program via e-mail, on web sites and through Internet newsgroups its former customers are likely to visit.
According to a lawsuit filed by state attorneys last spring in King County Superior Court, the company, which does business as Epipo, Inc., promised to pay consumers for viewing specially targeted advertising sent to their home computers. However, the company kept changing the payment terms so that it was virtually impossible for people to collect the promised money.
"This company used the power of the Internet to attract people to a money-making scheme and then kept changing the rules of the game," Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. "Now, we want the company to use the same power of the Internet to inform people they are entitled to compensation for their wasted time."
The restitution claim period will begin on Nov. 1, but the company's web site (www.epipo.com) already includes information on the claims process.
Attorneys say that at its height, Epipo had as many as 22,000 people signed up for its service. The company estimates it could owe as much as $276,000 to consumers, but because of the company's financial condition, those eligible for restitution will only receive 25 cents for every dollar owed.
According to the lawsuit, Epipo solicited consumers to download software that -- once customized with the consumer's demographic information - delivered specific banner ads to the consumer's computer. At the same time, the software monitored the amount of time the consumer spent on the Internet.
According to the complaint, consumers who displayed two banner ads while surfing were originally to be paid six cents per hour, or three cents an hour if they chose to display only one. But payment terms changed and, as a result, consumers were rarely able to meet conditions needed for payment.
For example, Epipo required that consumers earn at least $25 in a month in order to be paid, which meant consumers had to spend at least 1,250 hours on the Internet. In addition, fees were deducted from inactive accounts, and accounts left inactive for 60 days or more were shut down and any money earned was forfeited.
Of the complaints filed with the Attorney General's Office, the most any one consumer earned was about $100.
In addition to notifying former customers about the restitution program through e-mail and on its web site, the company must also purchase up to $1,500 worth of advertising on third-party web sites that its former customers are likely to visit.
The advertisements will run through the next year on 11 different web sites.
Under the settlement, the company will also be barred from engaging in similar behavior in the future.