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Get rich quick on Amazon? Lawsuits target alleged scammers

Suits by Amazon and the state of Washington allege that two brothers charged people up to $35,000 for sham coaching on how to sell products on the site.

A screenshot taken Friday of the FBA Stores website.

A screenshot taken Friday of the FBA Stores website.

CNET

Using a specialized system, you too can earn $5,000 to $10,000 a month by selling products on Amazon, all while working less than an hour a day.

Does that pitch sound too good to be true? Well, it did to Washington state's attorney general.

AG Bob Ferguson said Friday that his office filed a civil lawsuit in King County Superior Court against Adam and Christopher Bowser, who live in Massachusetts. The brothers allegedly operate a get-rich-quick scheme that targeted hundreds of Washington residents who were hoping to learn how to sell wares on Amazon.

"The defendants promise easy money, but deliver a scam," Ferguson said Friday in a statement announcing the suit, which was filed Wednesday. "I will not tolerate scammers preying on Washingtonians."

screen-shot-2017-12-08-at-1-56-26-pm

An exhibit from Amazon's lawsuit.

Via Amazon

Amazon filed a separate civil suit Wednesday against the brothers, whose company is called FBA Stores LLC, saying in its filing that the two "are con artists who prey on people hoping to become sellers on Amazon.com."

In a statement emailed Sunday night, Adam Bowser said the complaint was untrue.

"I am disputing the complaint against my company to the fullest as the allegations are flat out not true," Bowser wrote. "We are completely confident of our product and services and have every confidence that we will prevail on the issues."

He later added: "We are beyond proud of what we do in teaching people how to generate an income stream through Amazon and have nothing to hide."

The suits are part of Amazon's more aggressive effort to fend off bad or illegal practices on its sprawling website, which includes hundreds of millions of listings. The company has already pursued fake reviewers, sellers of counterfeit products and alleged fraudsters on its Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Going after FBA Stores could help Amazon show it's working to protect small businesses from such practices, too.

These suits, however, also help highlight all the ways bad actors have been gaming Amazon's open platforms.

According to the state filing, the Bowser brothers have been running their alleged scam since 2009. They draw in people by offering free webinars or in-person workshops on how to sell on Amazon and routinely use Amazon's logos in their signs and brochures, the suit says. At these events, they convince people to pay $1,000 for three-day workshops.

Then, at the the workshops, they allegedly use aggressive sales tactics to get people to register for more coaching or seminars. These programs cost from $4,000 for the "Wholesale" package, up to $35,000 for the "Diamond Coaching Package." The program also includes a $20,000 "Master Mentor" program. The state filing claims these support services then aren't provided to people who paid. 

An exhibit from Amazon's complaint, showing several packages offered by FBA Stores.

Via Amazon

During a webinar, the filing said, Chris Bowser said he and his brother have made more than $75 million in online sales in 18 years of business, $12 million of which was through Amazon in just one year. He added that they both have done more than $1 million in sales on Amazon in the last 30 days, according to the filing.

They also offered purported testimonials from past clients, including an assertion that a 9-year-old boy from New Hampshire, whose mom attended one of their workshops and purchased one of their courses, used his $5 weekly allowance to make more than $3,000 in just one month with his mother's help.

However, many of the tips the Bowsers offered violate Amazon's terms of service and could result in sellers getting banned, the state suit alleges. For instance, the Bowsers told people they should buy fake reviews to boost product sales. They also offered to sell people inventory to list online, but the products they provided were repackaged or shoddier than advertised. In those cases, Amazon could also ban a seller for misidentifying wares.

In its suit, Amazon alleges that the Bowser brothers committed trademark infringement and false advertising, among other things. The company requests they stop using its trademarks and pay unspecified damages.

The state complaint asks the court to order the Bowser brothers to pay restitution to consumers and impose civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.

"Amazon has zero tolerance for fraud," a company spokesman said in a statement Friday. "Amazon is investing heavily in protecting the integrity of the Amazon marketplace for consumers and sellers. Among other measures, we take independent legal action against bad actors, and we will continue to do so."

Potential victims of the alleged scam can file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

Originally published on Friday, Dec. 8, at 12:34 p.m. PT.
Updated, Dec. 11 at 6:51 a.m. PT: Added statement from Adam Bowser.

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