to Permanent Injunction In False Advertising and Automatic-Renewal Case
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2015
Radinsky, Chief Deputy, Consumer Protection Division
Monica City Attorney's Office
website MyLife.com has agreed to a court judgment under which it will pay
$800,000.00 in penalties, plus $250,000.00 in refunds to customers. The company
also will be subject to a permanent injunction that prohibits false advertising
and unauthorized credit card charges.
The case is
believed to be the first major prosecution of an online business for violating
California’s automatic-renewal law.
The case grew
out of a joint investigation by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office and the
Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Investigators found that MyLife
was tricking consumers into giving the company their personal identifying
information, and later their money, through false and misleading ads.
consumers to give their personal information, by promising that they would
learn who was searching for them, for free. In fact, consumers had to pay for
blurred photos to look like they were supposed to be actual people who were
searching for the consumer, when they were not.
a low monthly rate, then charging consumers’ credit cards for a full year’s
consumers’ credit cards automatically, each year, without disclosing that they
would do so – and without getting consumers' affirmative consent as required by
permanent court injunction, MyLife is prohibited from:
consumers’ credit cards under an automatic renewal, without first giving clear
notice and getting explicit consent from the consumer;
any free service if consumers must pay money to get it;
a consumer’s request to cancel his or her membership;
photos of people to get consumers to sign up, unless the photos actually depict
the people being referred to; and
payment for a membership longer than one month, unless all terms of the deal
are clearly and conspicuously displayed in close proximity to the payment
California law requires all businesses to get explicit consent from consumers
before automatically renewing their credit card payments. The terms of any
auto-renew agreement must also be clearly and prominently stated.
was founded in 2002 under the name Reunion.com, by Jeffrey Tinsley. It started
primarily as a people-search tool and made its money by charging for paid
memberships. With the rise of Facebook and other social media sites – which
provide more information, free of charge – MyLife’s paid people search feature
became increasingly outdated and hard to sell. MyLife later launched a “Who’s
Searching For You” feature, again for a fee, which claimed to tell members who
was searching for them online.
originally came under scrutiny for its practice of “contact scraping,” where
the company sent automated emails to all address-book contacts of each person
who signed up for its services – without the knowledge of that person. So each
member’s friends and family would receive an email, falsely telling them that
the member wanted them to sign up too. The Los Angeles Times ran an exposé of the company in 2008 (when it was still known as
Reunion.com) which described its questionable practices at the time.
court judgment was just entered in the Santa Monica courthouse of the Los
Angeles County Superior Court.
online should be extremely careful with two things: their personal information
and their credit cards,” said Adam Radinsky, Santa Monica’s Chief Deputy of
should be especially alert to automatic renewals whenever they make an online
payment for any service or membership. If a company doesn’t make you explicitly
consent to the program, it may be illegal,” said Radinsky.