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State AG reaches $1 million settlement in language CD scheme

Atencion, attenzione and achtung: Washington residents who bought what seemed to be cheap CDs to learn a foreign language, only to be trapped in an expensive Internet marketing scam, can get reimbursed for those pricey discs that arrived later.

The state Attorney General’s office announced Tuesday it has good news pour vous. It reached a $1 million settlement with Internet Order, the company that hawked language CDs through the Pimsleur Approach web site through an illegal “negative option marketing” system.

Congress said “nyet” to such marketing schemes back in 2010 when it passed the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act. In the first case filed under that law, Washington state sued the company that offered a “Quick and Simple” set of language discs at $9.95 in online ads with order forms that secretly signed those customers up for four more disc sets that cost $256 each.

Think the Columbia House record hustle with a bigger payment. As many as 40,000 Washington residents bought the entry level discs, said Paula Selis, a senior attorney in the office. Many received a second box of discs and had no idea it was coming. “Some people thought it was free until they looked at their credit card statements,” she said.

Some customers were able to cancel after the second set arrived, paying only for the postage to send those discs back. But others had their credit card accounts charged for one or more sets before getting them to stop.

“They made it very difficult to cancel,” Selis said. Some who refused to pay were threatened with collection agencies.

The Consumer Protection office had received about 40 complaints against Internet Order when it filed suit last September, but Selis believes those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The discs that teach a foreign language are popular with a wide range of ages, she said. Some younger people use them to learn another language and get a leg up in jobs; some seniors use them to learn a language before going on a trip.

“We didn’t sue them because of the quality of the product,” she said. Pimsleur Language Programs are owned by Simon and Schuster publishing company, which doesn’t use negative option marketing and is not part of the lawsuit. Internet Order had a license from the publishing company to market the discs online.

Internet Order initially denied it was breaking the law, but recently agreed to a settlement to pay back more than $1 million. People who believe they were victims of the Internet Order scheme because they were charged for discs they didn’t want can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Those who already have filed a complaint don’t need to file a new one.

The restitution doesn’t cover Pimsleur Language Programs discs purchased from Simon and Schuster or any other source, Selis said.

And if you listened to the discs but discovered you still couldn’t speak the language when you traveled to a foreign county, that’s not covered, either.

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