September 13, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
Does this radio ad, late night TV and on-line infomercial sound familiar?
“I will never forget the day my son Jeremy told me that he hated me and slammed the door in my face. I’m behavioral therapist Janet Lehman and I know what it’s like when the child you love becomes defiant, out of control and disrespectful. That’s why my husband James and I created the Total Transformation, the program thousands of families are now using to turn around their child’s behavior.
“And now you can try the program for free. I’m willing to give away 1,000 programs for free. All you need to do is get the program and let us know how it works for you. We’ll let you keep it for free. Let me prove to you that it works by giving you the program free.”
Just try to get it for free
“After hearing those ads on Sirius XM satellite radio for months, we decided to give it a try,” Selma reader Louie told us. “If it was really free, and all they wanted to from us was our opinion, then why not, so I called the 800 number.”
He was one of a number of unhappy readers who contacted You and the Law, after responding to the “free” offer. We have also heard the same radio ad on different radio stations.
“When they asked for my credit card number, I said ‘Why? It’s supposed to be free.’ ‘Oh no, we charge about $330 for the program, $19 shipping and handling, and you can qualify for a refund by completing nine surveys —taking 30 minutes each — within 180 days, but the shipping and handling charges are never refunded.’
“How do you go from free to paying anything, especially $330 and then, what if I don’t answer a survey question correctly?” Louie fired back and did not complete the order.
“It was the free offer which I was responding to and there is no way to get the program free. Am I wrong, or does this have false advertising written all over it?” our reader asked.
We ran the idea of something being advertised as free, when it is really is not, by one of the nations leading experts in deceptive advertising, San Francisco-based attorney Bruce Simon, co-author of “California Unfair Competition and Business Torts,” published by LexisNexis.
“Consumers have the right to full disclosure in an advertisement of all material facts to the transaction. Free means free. If, in reality, there is no way to obtain the item free, then you are potentially dealing with false advertising and a company doing this could be sued by a D.A.’s office, a state’s Attorney General, the FTC or wind up in a class action.
“Where free is used repeatedly, becoming the primary thrust of the ad, and left out is the fact that you will be billed for the program, plus shipping and handling, then in my opinion, the entire transaction is tainted,” he maintains.
We note a big difference in saying, ‘Just tell us what you think of it,’ and requiring completion of time-consuming surveys.
“It only takes a few seconds in a a commercial to disclose shipping and handling charges, as well as how much you will be billed over a certain period of time. It is the ethical, honest way to advertise, and fully informs consumers of what they are getting into,” Simon underscores.
“We tell you when you call”
We contacted both Sirius XM Radio and Legacy Publishing, the company which markets The Total Transformation, asking for comment. Finally, Legacy’s President Jim DeWolfe phoned, and made a stunning admission:
“It’s hard to get all of the information into a 60 second ad. When people call, those other elements of our offer are completely disclosed and our radio spots have a tag line where an announcer states there is a shipping and handling charge.”
“I’ll bet there is a tag line now, as we have been in touch with Sirius XM radio about this very issue. That’s why your ad got partially cleaned up,” we replied.
“When they admit that the customer gets the important details when calling, this confirms the misleading nature of the ad, in my opinion,” attorney Simon commented.
Is there value to the program itself?
Our issue is not with the program itself, rather, with the way it is being sold, and DeWolfe suggested that we consider the thousands of families who have been helped by The Total Transformation.
If the program is half as interesting and engaging as James Lehman is in their infomercials, then we have no doubt that it will benefit some families, free or not. You just have to do your research, a lot of research.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.