Reprinted with permission
Marc Dann, Ohio's Attorney General, filed a lawsuit on March 23, 2007 against Ohio-based Courts Online, an online business that offers unlimited searches of private and public databases, including criminal Instant Background Checks, for a one-time fee between $24 - 30. The action was filed after Dann's office received more than 50 complaints from consumers across the United States.
Those complaints included allegations that Courts Online failed to deliver purchased services, misrepresented the services offered in advertising, and failed to properly inform consumers about refund policies. The investigation also revealed the fact that the company is not properly registered in the state of Ohio as a business.
“Because consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to purchase goods and services, I will do all I can to ensure that companies based in Ohio are operating according to the law — not operating scams,” Dann said. “With that in mind, we are not filing this claim to put Courts Online out of business, but to protect consumers by forcing the company to comply with the law.
The case was filed in Miami County Common Pleas Court where the business is located. Courts Online co-owners Mark and Diana Musselman of Piqua were also named in the suit. Complaints about the business have also been lodged with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.
Dann said that although the company apparently returned money to consumers who filed complaints, his office believes many others who used the service did not complain because of the relatively small amount of money involved.
“Our investigation found that the company has sold memberships to over 50,000 consumers and made in excess of $1 million," Dann added. "I want to make sure people know they can file a complaint with our office to get help if they feel their consumer rights have been violated. Even though an Internet seller doesn’t have face to face contact with the consumer, they are bound by the consumer laws that govern every retailer in Ohio. That means they cannot advertise in a way which misrepresents the benefits of the product or service, fail to deliver, be unresponsive to consumer complaints or inquiries, or refuse to provide refunds.”
Dann is asking the court to stop the co-owners and any employees of Courts Online from continuing their illegal activities and from entering into any further business transactions until they have satisfied the terms of the court decision including paying restitution to previous customers as deemed necessary by the court. A civil penalty is being requested of $25,000 per violation found by the court, and a request for rights to be able to see Courts Online's business records at any given time over the next five years. Dann asked for the right to review its records in order to ensure that the company is operating under Ohio's consumer laws.
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