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Friendly reminder to businesses: it is ILLEGAL to lie about fake reviews

If you offer incentives in order to receive reviews from your consumers, you must disclose this fully and completely or face penalty from the FTC.

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Fake reviews are more than just unethical

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) recent intervention serves as a friendly reminder to businesses: if you compensate consumers for reviewing your product or service, you must disclose this compensation. AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker based in Peachtree City, Georgia, has agreed to a settlement with the FTC that will halt the company’s allegedly deceptive practice of touting online customer reviews, while failing to disclose that the reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.

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The FTC’s complaint marks the first time the agency has charged a company with misrepresenting online reviews by failing to disclose that it gave cash discounts to customers to post the reviews. Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection stated, “companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews. If they fail to do that then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

AmeriFreight is an automobile shipment broker that arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers. Its website claims the company had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transportation business.” As part of its advertising, it encouraged consumers to “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.” Due to these statements, AmeriFreight and its owner, Marius Lehmann, violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by failing to disclose that they compensated consumers for their online reviews. Specifically, according to the complaint, the respondents provided consumers with a discount of $50 off the cost of AmeriFreight’s services if consumers agreed to review the company’s services online, and increased the cost by $50 if consumers did not agree to write a review. They also outlined “conditions for receiving a discount on reviews,” stating if consumers leave an online review, they will be automatically entered into a $100 per month “Best Monthly Review Award” for the most creative subject title and “informative content.”

Omission is also a lie, folks

They also contacted consumers after their cars had been shipped to remind them of their obligation to complete a review to receive the “online review discount,” and qualify for the $100 award. However, they failed to disclose the material connection between the company and their consumer endorsers; namely: AmeriFreight compensated consumers to post online reviews. Finally, and perhaps most offensively, AmeriFreight deceptively represented that its favorable reviews were based on the unbiased reviews of customers.

How the FTC is punishing AmeriFreight

In order to settle the FTC’s charges, AmeriFreight is prohibited fom misrepresenting their products or services are highly rated or top-ranked based on unbiased consumer reviews, or that customer reviews are unbiased. It also requires the respondents to clearly and prominently disclose any material connection, if one exists, between them and their endorsers.

AmeriFreight must also maintain records of their advertisements and other relevant documents, and must deliver copies of the order to company principals, officers, directors, managers, employees and others. Finally, they must notify the FTC about any changes in corporate structure or affiliation with new businesses that could affect their compliance with the order, which will expire in 20 years.

For more information:

The FTC has information for consumers about detecting and avoiding deceptive and misleading advertisement, as well as, how to submit comments about such transgressors electronically. Use this intervention as a word to the wise: if you offer an incentive in order to receive reviews from consumers, you absolutely must disclose this incentive fully and completely or risk facing penalties from the FTC.

#IllegalReviews

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45-minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well, and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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