State of Washington sues Web/SEO firm

These are the kinds of charges that can send a company's customers fleeing ... and certainly should if they're proven to be true.

The State of Washington has filed suit (.pdf) against a Redmond-based search engine optimization and Web services outfit that has done business under the names Visible.net, Captures.com and WebMarketingSource.com. In essence, the state attorney general contends that these entities have ripped off their mostly mom-and-pop clientele through a pattern of unfulfilled performance promises and financial shenanigans. While the clients may be on the smaller end of the spectrum, they have been forking over real money, with initial startup charges ranging from $3,750 to $9,750, plus a monthly fee of $40 to $100.

The attorney general has charged the company and its owner, Gilbert Walker, with:

  • Misrepresenting the ability to significantly increase traffic to customer Web sites by achieving top search-engine rankings and failing to deliver other promised services.
  • Falsely claiming an affiliation with other marketers including Specialty Merchandise Company, a so-called drop-ship wholesaler.
  • Claiming that its customer service representatives can be reached at any time when, in fact, customers are often unable to reach representatives and sometimes do not receive return calls.
  • Failing to provide refunds or honor cancellation requests.
  • Continuing to bill the credit cards of some consumers who have attempted to cancel and submitting alleged debts to collection agencies.
  • And, failing to register with the Department of Licensing as a commercial telephone solicitor and failing to provide written confirmation of a consumer's rights under the Commercial Telephone Solicitation Act.

The attorney general says 90 complaints have been lodged against the company in the past four years. And it doesn't take a lot of Googling to see that Visible and its various iterations have attracted detractors.

In reply to my request for comment on the state's allegations, Matt Franklin, the company's marketing director, writes: "At this time we are not responding to inquiries about the (attorney general's) press release. Our official response will most likely be posted to our blog. Appreciate the inquiry, sorry I can't be of much help as of yet."

Visible.net customers are likely to be anxious to read that official response. Would-be customers even more so.

(Update: You can read the company's response here.)

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