As previously blogged about here by FTC defense lawyer, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those that advertise, market, distribute, promote and sell certain kinds of ecommerce management, business coaching, work-from-home and investment programs.
Recently, in response to an action filed by the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has entered a temporary restraining order against the operators of a Florida-based business opportunity and real estate investment training scheme known as Ganadores Online and Ganadores Inversiones Bienes Raíces. The FTC charges that the companies behind Ganadores, their owners, and key employees targeted Spanish-speaking consumers with brazen and false money-making pitches for online businesses and real estate investments.
Among other requirements, the order prohibits the defendants from making unsupported marketing claims, violating the Business Opportunity Rule and Cooling Off Rule, and from interfering with consumers’ ability to review Ganadores and its products. The court has appointed a temporary monitor over the Ganadores companies, instructed the companies to preserve their assets, and frozen the assets of their owners and principals.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the Ganadores scheme has targeted Spanish-speaking consumers using false or unfounded promises that its “infallible system” can help consumers find financial freedom, replace their day jobs, and give their families financial independence.
“This scheme made grand promises of life-changing returns in Spanish, but hid key terms in English-language contracts that many consumers could not read.” said FTC attorney Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They took millions of dollars from Spanish-speaking consumers seeking to better their lives and provide for their families, and it’s time to hold them accountable for the significant injury they have caused.”
The FTC alleges that individuals in leadership positions with Ganadores—Richard Alvarez, Robert Shemin, and Bryce Chamberlain—previously participated in a alleged similar scheme, Zurixx, that was sued by the FTC in 2019. The FTC also alleges that Richard and Sara Alvarez took part in FBA Stores, another alleged similar scheme sued by the FTC in 2018.
The structure of the Ganadores operation closely mirrors those prior schemes, according to the FTC. For example, according to the FTC’s complaint, Ganadores starts with social media and other online advertising touting free “seminars” coming to the viewer’s area where Richard Alvarez and Shemin will share supposed strategies to make big money in real estate.
In fact, FTC lawyers charge that these seminars are nothing but a sales pitch for the company’s three-day workshops, which cost consumers hundreds of dollars to attend. At the seminars, company salespeople purportedly claim that those who attend the workshops will learn everything they need to know to make money either running online businesses or investing in real estate.
As alleged by the FTC, the workshops, however, are just another step in a sales funnel that points attendees to pay more than $28,000 for “by the hand” mentoring services that will supposedly result in purchasers making six-figure incomes.
While consumers are promised one-on-one mentoring by experts in online sales or real estate, six-figure incomes, and access to special money-making software, the FTC charges that the “mentoring” rarely delivers on Ganadores’ promises. According to the FTC, customers often interact with mentors in large group calls, are told to use public websites like Google or Zillow in lieu of the company’s often-faulty software, and they do not earn back the money they paid for the mentoring, let alone earn six-figure incomes.
The FTC charges that when consumers realize that Ganadores’ services are not what they promised and seek refunds, the defendants unfairly rely on a clause buried in the sales paperwork that gives consumers only three days to seek a refund. The complaint also charges that while the company’s marketing and sales are conducted largely in Spanish, the company’s contracts with their disclosures are often provided in English, despite the fact that many of their customers have limited to no English fluency.
According to the FTC, Ganadores and its principals, along with the companies behind the scheme (Vision Online, Inc., Ganadores IBR, Inc., Vision Online Digital, LLC, Vision Online English, LLC, Vision Online Latino, LLC) have pocketed millions of dollars from consumers while violating numerous laws, including the FTC Act, the Business Opportunity Rule, the Consumer Review Fairness Act, and the FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule.
The FTC is asking the court to permanently stop Ganadores’ unlawful practices and return funds to consumers injured by the Ganadores scheme.