The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is suing an internet entrepreneur from Sherwood Park, Alta., over allegations he used deceptive business practices to take more than $450 million from customers since 2007.
In a complaint filed in Seattle on May 16, the FTC alleges Jesse Willms, 24, used "risk-free" trial offers to get customers' credit card numbers and then billed them each month for products like tooth whiteners and weight-loss products.
"People who thought they were going to pay $4.95 for shipping and handling, ended up with monthly charges of about $80 a month until they figured it out and got the charges stopped," said Bob Schroeder, regional director of the FTC in Seattle.
"Consumers were charged for things that they were not expecting, that they did not agree to. And then when they tried to cancel and get their money back, the defendants made it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to do that."
The FTC complaint contains nine different charges including misrepresentation, failure to disclose charges to customers, using false endorsements by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray, and misleading credit card companies so he could keep billing customers.
The FTC is asking the court to place a permanent injunction on the companies to stop their alleged violations as well as order refunds for consumers.
Several business partners as well as companies controlled by Willms are also named in the complaint.
Some of the products Willms sells include DazzleWhite teeth whitener and AcaiBurn weight-loss products. He is also behind the penny auction site Swipebids.com.
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
Willms did not make himself available for an interview Thursday but he sent a statement to CBC News.
"We believe our business practices are compliant with the law and are working to resolve this disagreement with the appropriate government agencies," the statement said.
Both the RCMP and the Competition Bureau of Canada confirm Willms is under investigation in Canada.