Edmonton

Competition Bureau probes Alta. web entrepreneur

A search warrant reveals the Competition Bureau of Canada was looking for sales revenue records and other data in last month's search of the Edmonton-area offices of internet entrepreneur Jesse Willms.

A search warrant reveals the Competition Bureau of Canada was looking for sales revenue records and other data in last month's search of the Edmonton-area offices of internet entrepreneur Jesse Willms.

Willms, 24, was sued last month by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over allegations he used deceptive business practices to defraud consumers of $467 million.

The Competition Bureau of Canada confirms a Canadian investigation into Willms's business practices is now underway.

"The Competition Bureau is investigating alleged false and misleading representations made by Mr. Willms and his companies, targeting thousands of victims in Canada, the U.S. and around the world," said Lisa Campbell, the bureau's deputy commissioner. 

The bureau obtained a search warrant on May 12 to search Willms's office in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton.

According to the document, investigators were looking for electronic or paper records that include sales figures, staff training manuals, financial statements and computer passwords.

The investigation is active and ongoing. A decision about when or if charges are laid must come from a Crown prosecutor.

Willms controls dozens of websites which sell products like tooth whiteners and weight-loss aids as well as operating the penny auction site SwipeBids.com. Court documents show sales of Wu Yi weight loss tea totalled $121 million in under two years.

"Mr. Willms and his companies were advertising these products as free trials when in fact they were soliciting sensitive personal information from people including credit card information and unwittingly committing people to ongoing subscriptions," Campbell said.

The FTC lawsuit filed in Seattle on May 16 makes similar allegations which have not been proven in court. Willms must file his response to the complaint by next week.

With files from the CBC's Terry Reith

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