Seattle - March 28, 2001- A suit filed today by the Attorney General's Office alleges an Everett company used deceptive tactics to sell computer equipment on Internet auction sites. The tactics allegedly included using shill bidders to inflate product prices.
The lawsuit, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, culminates a three-month investigation that started shortly after numerous customers complained that they didn't receive merchandise they'd ordered. The investigation was conducted by the Attorney General's High Tech Unit.
To date, the Attorney General's Office has received more than 75 complaints, many from consumers who ordered computers to give as Christmas presents.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are David Buckner, of Detroit, Mich., and Scott Buckner and Eric Scott, both of Everett. Also named is Office PC, which did business on the Internet as Incom Systems, Aliendistribution, Finger PC, Extranothing, Wearsoftware and Expressnet, and a non-profit firm called Kids and Computers.
David Buckner owns the businesses and Scott Buckner and Eric Scott are managers.
"While the Internet holds out much promise as a tool for business, cases like this show the need for consumers to be especially cautious as they travel through cyberspace looking for good bargains," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
According to the lawsuit, the Buckners and Scott first launched Office PC in March 1998 by offering lower-priced custom-made computers, supplies and components over Internet auction sites.
According to the lawsuit, the firm offered as many as 100 computers at a time, selling to the highest bidders.
The Internet auction site eBay suspended Office PC in September 1999 after receiving numerous consumer complaints. The suit alleges the firm responded by changing its name to Xtranothing, Wearsoftware, and Kids and Computers in an attempt to stay in operation. As soon as eBay linked the new business names to Office PC, the new businesses were suspended from the auction site.
Last August, Office PC again started business under the name of Aliendistribution. It was suspended from eBay in November, but continued to operate on Yahoo's auction site.
The Attorney General's lawsuit specifically accuses the firm of violating the state's Consumer Protection Act by failing to deliver merchandise, misrepresenting the level of customer service and technical support it would provide, failing to refund customer money, failing to respond to complaints, failing to accurately track orders, selling damaged equipment and, in January, falsely claiming the company had declared bankruptcy.
The lawsuit also alleges the company's principals posed as legitimate bidders and placed "shill bids" intended to inflate the price of the computers. In one case, the state alleges, the winning bid was increased from less than $600 to $792.50 because of the phony bids.
The lawsuit also claims that the defendants used eBay's "Feedback Forum" to post statements of praise "designed to deceive potential purchasers into believing the defendants' business practices are sound and that prior customers were pleased with their purchasing experiences."
Under a variety of names, the defendants allegedly posted messages like "Gotten their act together, no problems," "Alien PC is Awesome," and "Excellent eBayer! Recommend to any seller."
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties, restitution for customers and attorney fees.