Bitter Fruit for Consumers from the Google Money Tree

money_treeBy John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

When the economy goes into the tank, scammers seek to take advantage of consumers desperate for some extra cash. Unfortunately, due to trying economic circumstances, we find that consumers who would likely otherwise shy away from dubious business opportunities become more susceptible to them.

One such case involves a company advertising itself as “Google Money Tree,” which operates a site called www.googlemoneytree.com. Over the past two months, NCL’s Fraud Center has received more than a dozen consumer complaints via our online complaint form. In addition, blogs and message boards focusing on publicizing work-at-home scams have noted numerous complaints about the company.

The scam appears to work like this:

  • The victim receives an email or sees an ad offering a substantial weekly salary earned simply by “Posting on Google.”
  • The victim is then directed to a download site where they enter in their contact information to receive a “Google Money Tree Kit” for “free” (though a $3.88 shipping and handling charge applies).
  • Customers who enter their credit card information to order the kit are charged the $3.88 shipping and handling fee.

Sounds great, right? Ready for the Google Money Tree to start sprouting your riches?

Not so fast. Unfortunately, numerous consumers have reported that they receive nothing and are subsequently charged a $72.21 fee for access to the Google Money Tree. When they call to dispute the charge, they are told that they agreed to the monthly fee when they signed up to receive the kit and didn’t call to cancel within seven days.

It’s hard to believe that many consumers would have fallen for this trick if the $72.21 fee was readily disclosed. Where is this fee listed? Why, in hard-to-read grey text on a white background at the bottom of the page (above the attention-grabbing red “Check This Out!” sign pointing to photos of a Range Rover, mansion, and island retreat), of course! As stipulated, agreeing to receive the kit gives the consumer a 7-day trial access to the Google Money Tree private Web site where, presumably, the secrets of getting rich quick with Google will be revealed.

The Devil is in the Term and Conditions

As with most dubious work-at-home schemes, the devil is in the details; or in this case, the “terms and conditions” section. There, in tiny font, the red flags abound. First, consumers are alerted that the use of the Google Money Tree involves a negative option, a bill practice that has been deemed unethical by some (since the customer must “opt out” in order to avoid getting billed). The Federal Trade Commission enforces strict rules about how negative option billing programs can be advertised and disclosed via the Prenotification Negative Option Rule, which “requires companies to give you information about their plans, clearly and conspicuously, in any promotional materials that consumers can use to enroll.”

Second, the “Disclaimer of Warranties and Liability” section seems at odds with the advertised purpose of Google Money Tree. Specifically, the fine print states that:

“This Site is for informational purposes only, and is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed. googlemoneytree.com does not provide legal, financial, or any other kind of professional advice or services. To make sure that information or suggestions on this site fit your particular circumstances, you should consult with an appropriate professional before taking action based on any suggestions or information on this site.”

The Google Money Tree Web site advertises that this is a “limited time offer” and that consumers should “act now!” Why then, are consumers advised to “consult with an appropriate professional” before taking any action (presumably to include investing money) that Google Money Tree advises?

Finally, there is the dreaded “Consent to Binding Arbitration Before the American Arbitration Association,” clause which essentially prevents a consumer from trying to get their money back from Google Money Tree in court.

Sleuthiness!

The dubiousness of Google Money Tree does not end at the Terms and Condition section. Since we’re inquisitive types, we took it upon ourselves to look a bit deeper into Google Money Tree. First, we checked with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada (Google Money Tree is registered to a P.O. Box in Las Vegas). Lo and behold, Google Money Tree has an “F” rating with the BBB due, in part, to six complaints against the company. The good folks at the BBB told us that Google Money Tree does not have a valid business license and that they began receiving complaints about the business in November 2008, which is incidentally around the same time that our Fraud Center began receiving complaints as well (are we surprised?).

We also checked out the inference on Google Money Tree’s advertising Web site that they were written up in the New York Times and USA Today. The only “mention” of Google Money Tree in either publication was a November 12, 2008 story in the New York Times that mentions how a former Google employee’s friends call him “the Google money tree.” If this is what the operators of googlemoneytree.com feel amounts to an endorsement by the paper of record, they really are ambitious.

The Bottom Line: Avoid

For all intents and purposes, Google Money Tree looks like an extremely dubious enterprise, operating on the edge of being an out-and-out scam. Consumers should be on the watch for any get-rich-quick scheme, particularly those that promise large paydays in exchange for up-front investments in “training kits” or “educational materials,” especially if they involve recurring monthly fees. Because Internet companies like Google are respected names, scam artists frequently make use of their names to try and associate themselves with such companies’ good reputations. Remember to check out ANY company with the Better Business Bureau before sending them money and always, always, ALWAYS read the fine print. Finally, consumers who feel that they’ve been scammed by Google Money Tree or ANY scam should file their complaint at NCL’s online complaint form.

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17 thoughts on “Bitter Fruit for Consumers from the Google Money Tree

  1. John,

    I did the write up at WorkAtHomeTruth and this is great additional information that I missed. I’ve also read through NCL’s negative option proposals which were a big help, too.

    As you know, these “hidden negative option” offers are a huge problem, so I’m sure I’ll be writing up many more of them and directing people to NCL.

    Would you prefer that I just direct them to the complaint form as you have listed here? Right now I have the following information listed:

    NCL
    1701 K Street, NW, Suite 1200,
    Washington DC 20006

    phone 202-835-3323
    fax 202-835-0747
    email info@nclnet.org

    And will be adding the link to the NCL complaint form now.

    Paul Schlegel

  2. It seems that a whole lot of people know about this scam. However, Bank of America said there was nothing they could do to help get my money back. Too bad, but I am glad I only lost about $75.00. I changed my credit card so it won’t happen again.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Paul. It’d be great if you could direct fokls to the online complaint form, as that’s how we take in information that we share with the FTC, attorney generals offices, and other consumer protection agencies.

    The main Fraud.org page is also a great portal to information on Internet and telemarketing fraud in general and work-at-home scams in particular.

  4. I have been scammed on this site and all I wanted to do was earn some money legitimately. I immediately contacted the FTC in Wash. and have a confirmation from them I also sent a leyyer to google money tree addess-not PO Box- they work out of a call center at- 2375 East Tropicana Road Suite # 8 Las Vegas Nevada I sent on Jan 15 a letter certified return receipt to them requesting the refund and also have contacted here in Pa. the State Atty’s General office.I am researching the actual owner’;s name’s as I understand there are Two individuals maybe more.I also sent their Kit which was a CD that I never used to them with letter. I wish their was a way to Block their advertising e-mails somehow to stop future people being taken. In the letter I stated their customer service practices are illegal also. The address is a call center Only-I hope I have assisted you and wnat this to stop. In this economy this is os wrong. I am 62 yrs of age and all I wanted to do was try and earn some money from home while I am searching out new F/T employement as I lost my position.
    Thank you for this information.
    Best regards to all in hoping their practices can be stopped.
    Nancy Lasher

  5. I just had a long discussion with Paul at his WFHT website… and he suggested I post here as well.

    First off.. i’m a casual and interested observer. I have no stake or interest in the company, or the review sites that call it a scam.

    I’m rather dismayed at your article, and the conclusions, and actual outright misrepresentations. You act as a quasi-gov agency, yet you don’t adhear to the most basic of research standards.

    For instance: The disclosure regarding the payment is not in ‘hard to read grey lettering’, it’s just as bold as everything else. I’ve been researching this model for quite some time, and I’m concerned with your blatent disregard for accurate and balanced reporting. Maybe you don’t feel you have a need to be fair, but then.. that makes you no better than the people you call scammers. The text on your article is smaller than all of the disclosures that GMT company makes. Why is it ok for you, but not for them?

    It looks to me like this company ahears to every FTC recommendation regarding proximity of disclosure, and advance disclosure of the negitive option condition. If they are compliant, with the letter if not the spirit of the law… what’s your beef? Are you just trying to justify your existence in the first place??

    All in all… fairly unimpressive!

  6. John,

    I don’t know how often you post here, but there is another product called GrantsForYouNow that was heavily promoted along with Google Money Tree that has also generated a significant number of complaints.

    What’s more bizarre though is that people are calling GrantsForYouNow and GrantsForYouNow is telling people to post their refund requests on the WorkAtHomeTruth blog post that explains the extra charges (again they have a prechecked box linking to the terms and conditions where the information about the extra charges are located and a VERY baffling refund process).

    What’s even STRANGER though is that the people are actually doing what GrantsForYouNow is telling them to do and posting the refund requests on the WorkAtHomeTruth blog post that explains the monthly charges.

    I would actually guess that the problems with GrantsForYouNow are MORE pervasive than the ones than Google Money Tree as the QuantCast ranking for GrantsForYouNow is significantly higher than the QuantCast Ranking for Google Money Tree:

    GrantsForYouNow on Quantcast estimates that over 1 MILLION people visit GrantsForYouNow Monthly.

    GoogleMoneyTree on Quantcast estimates that 130K people visit GoogleMoneyTree monthly.

    You can see a visual of how much bigger GrantsForYouNow seems to be than GoogleMoneyTree in the Compete graph below:

    Now, based on the fact that people are taking the strange action of posting refund request for a product on a blog post warning them about extra charges for the product it seems unlikely that this particular demographic (whatever it is) would follow through on filing complaints no matter what instructions were put on the page.

    You can see the entire bizarre happenings here:

    GrantsForYouNow Complaints

  7. Carlton,

    Glad to see you here.

    One thing I found out that I didn’t know when we were discussing this is that Google Money Tree had changed their order process by the time you entered the conversation.

    When the blog post started, they had a pre-checked box linking to the terms and agreements, but they didn’t have the terms themselves on the first or second page.

    Now they have the terms on the second page.

    I updated the blog to reflect that they had mde those changes.

    However, now people are writing that they called to cancel within the 7 day trial, told that the service would be canceled, but are still getting hit with the $72 charge and being denied a refund.

    So basically they are alleging that the followed the rules outlined by Google Money Tree’s own Terms and Conditions and Google Money Tree is allegedly failing to comply. Of course those are only allegations.

    I’m still curious about two things concerning their new order process:

    1) The prechecked box next to the Terms and Conditions agreement link.

    2) The fact that they wrote out the monthly charge amount.

    Of course the ultimate solution as you’ve pointed out is to get people to always find and READ the terms and conditions no matter what.

  8. Man, they got my Dad, too. He just told me.

    And in a bizarre twist now their site is threatening people with $10,000 for each time a person mentions their site, the owners, the URL, or the site’s address without permission from the company.

    In fact, this is a new clause that many companies running these types of negative option offers that stretch the meaning of “clear and conspicuous”. They even threaten people who might mention the site to someone else who THEN goes and posts on a forum, messageboard, etc.

  9. I represent GoogleMoneyTree.. and I’m here to assist GMT clients in getting refunds in circumstances where they feel they were treated unfairly.

    In advance of that, I want to address some questions and comments that have been raised on this, and other boards. My doing so is not an attempt to debate people. So, to that effect, here are some very relevant facts you should know:

    Let me first state that GMT was founded by an individual who has over a decade of experience in online marketing. This person makes enormous sums of money selling products via PPC, Organic Search, SEO, Blogs, as well as Display and Contextual Advertising. He also has a double opt in mailing list of over a million subscribers so he delivers quite a bit of email. And this is all selling products OTHER THAN GoogleMoneyTree. In the GMT kit, is an enormous amount of original education about how to duplicate what he has done. Anyone who applies him/her self can do the same thing. There is also information that if purchased seperately online, would cost you hudreds, even thousands of dollars.

    In marketing online products like GMT, the ruling body is the most often the FTC, and in some cases the state of incorporation or location of the business. GMT complies with, and even EXCEEDS in some cases, the requirements in online marketing, fair disclosure and proximity as required by the FTC. GMT goes beyond the recommendations of the FTC to include disclosure and adequate proximity in the Terms & Conditions.

    Would you have GMT, who by the way, is a business attempting to compete in a very competitive marketplace, and employs over one hundred individuals… (LOCATED IN THE US!!!), exceed the requirements of the federal government? Would you ask GMT to do MORE than what is required by law?

    In what other business is that kind of extra disclosure mandated. When you buy a car, is it the sellers responsibility to make sure that you know how to drive, how to repair it if it breaks down, and disclose anything that is less than 100% perfect about it? When you purchase fast food, would you require the seller to disclose to you more than the FDA requires of them? Drug companies are not forced to tell you how many thousands of people die each year due to dangerous side effects, and interaction issues… just that some side effects ‘may occur’.

    The facts are, the GMT Kit is a very, very good product (the only people who will dispute that, are those who have something to gain by doing so, because they are selling their own product). People like OneQuestion don’t even own the product. They’ve never been through the sales process, and they have no idea what disclosures are made to the purchaser as the sales process proceeds. They use the word ‘scam’ in a completely inappropriate way. It seems that, like spoiled little children, should anything or anyone disagree with them, it MUST be a scam.

    In another blog, a writer wrote about what her organization considers a scam. However, their definition exceeds what the federal law requires. And, she falsely represents what kinds of disclosure GMT does provide. There HAS to be some accountability on the purchaser of the GMT product, as well as those who write falsehoods about it.

    Take the National Consumers League’s “write-up” of GMT. There are several mis-statements and outright lies made by Mr. Breyault. Here are some facts..

    > The shipping charge is CLEARLY disclosed in every phase of the order process. No one clicks on anything without having adequate disclosure that they are getting a kit for free, and only paying for a small shipping charge.

    > The member is told that they will have access to the members only site prior to the time they get their kit, in order to evaluate its value.

    > The free trial to the membership site is clearly disclosed. Prior to the time someone enters a credit card, and in CLOSE PROXIMITY to the form where that information is entered via a secure order form, clear and concise language explains that after the free trial period expires, membership in the program requires additional payments.

    > Mr Breyault says: Where is this fee listed? Why, in hard-to-read grey text on a white background at the bottom of the page (above the attention-grabbing red “Check This Out!” sign pointing to photos of a Range Rover, mansion, and island retreat), of course!

    However, that is an outright lie. The text is not grey, is easy to read, and larger than the FTC requires it to be, and on a white background. It is easy to find, and should be read by everyone who orders our product. I copied that text from his page, without changing the font or color. GMT disclosure is much larger than even the type he used for his little blog!

    > The Terms & Conditions are available on EVERY PAGE of our order process. Even directly above the submit button. A statement of customer agreement is made, by the customer, before they press the submit button to AUTHORIZE a charge on their card.

    > The United States Government requires that the sellers of such information online, ship you the kit in a ‘reasonable period of time’. Case law has determined that time frame to be 30 days. GMT kits are shipped out daily, but because the kits cost more to produce and ship than we even charge for shipping, we ship via ground mail, and depending on where you live, it takes 3 to 7 days (not including Sunday) to get your kit. This is why we give you access to the kit (via the website in advance!

    > If a situation occurs where a customer’s phone call is not immediately answered, that call goes into a queue, and if ever a call is in queue for more than 30 seconds, approximately 23 people are notified via email and text message. It happens about once every 3 days. If you were on hold for more than 30 seconds, it was an anomaly, and we apologize.

    Now.. those are the facts. GMT complies with every law, in every state, regarding when, where, why and how you are disclosed the facts of the purchase you are making.

    That said, calling GMT a ‘scam’, disavows you of any responsibility in the process. Contacting your bank and claiming fraud, is paramount to you lying and stealing, but you don’t hear anyone at our company calling you a thief. We play by the rules that are set up for us by our elected officials. Yes, the rules are not perfect, but neither are the rules that we, as individuals, make up in an effort to correct the inadequacy of the system within which we do business.

    GMT makes every effort to refund people who were, for whatever reason, not able to comply with the terms of the offer, or claim credit card fraud (meaning, someone stole their card and used it without permission) We’ve refunded a lot of money that we were not legally obligated to refund. We also refund those people who we show attempted to cancel within the time frame, but were billed that same day. That just seems fair. In the event of a technical or human error on our part, those customers will be given the benefit of the doubt, and refunded as well.

    However, our policy is NOT to refund someone who simply did not read the agreements they were making. Asking us to do so is asking us to be responsible for something that you are not will to take responsibility for, the maintenance of a bi-lateral purchase agreement between two parties that had adequate and sufficient information and disclosure. We put the link to our terms and conditions page in the same exact same location, and font size that you see at the federal governments own websites. Go to:
    http://www.irs.gov

    http://www.ftc.gov

    and now go to:

    http://www.deliciousdownloads.com/z/GMT/?cy=6&pr=10&af=12&ad=12&rs1=898653244&rs2=1532#

    We put it there because that is where consumers know to look. How much more would you ask of us? Would you want us to disclose more forcefully than even the regulatory agency entrusted to protect you as a consumer does??

    So… before you start posting comments about how you were ‘scammed’, ‘ripped off’, ‘lied to’…

    Please ask yourself if you had the opportunity to determine whether or not you should purchase the GMT kit, but decided not to read the information provided to you.

    Ask yourself if claiming to your credit card company that you were defrauded, or that your money was stolen, or ‘unauthorized’ is really honest.

    Only ask us to keep the commitments that you are willing to make yourself. We will treat you more fairly than 99.999% of the companies in our market. If we didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here.

    All that said. We do want to help. We are frustrated with the problems that blog sites like this have created, and are trying, in good faith, to do all that we can to assist.

    If you feel like you were lied to, scammed, stolen from… and you can honestly say that the terms of the offer were never made available to you, or that for whatever reason you were not given the chance to make a good decision, for yourself, and that you should not be held responsible for your own actions… the please email a detailed refund request, with only your first name, last name, and city/state to:

    GMTRefunds@gmail.com

    (yes, it’s a public mailbox, but it’s the only way I can ensure that our company is protected from competitors attempts at DNS attacks trying to subvert our attempts to assist you.)

    We will research your case, we will gather information regarding your attempts to contact customer service, we will examine whether you have complied with your responsibilities as defined in the terms and conditions, and then we will consider a refund.

    NOTE: If you blog under an anonymous name, that negatively portrays GMT, your are in violation of the Terms & Conditions you agreed to. So blog responsibly.

    When you receive the kit, I would suggest that you spend your time learning how to use that information to make money online rather than being frustrated. Even one month, of membership, and the kit is less than $100. You could make that money back in hours if you learn and follow the system.

  10. I’m curious to know about the steps GMT has taken to fix the problems associated with a product.

    I’ve worked with many companies like GMT who have products such as they do (Hit products with significant interests).

    The Snuggie is one example, the company started to get many complaints about poor service, no returned calls and the like.

    In the case of Snuggie, after everything was said and done, the problems had to do more so with the level of interest than the product itself. Here, the company had only expected 50,000 orders or so a month, and was selling at a rate of over 1,000,000 per month!

    I imagine GMT’s problems may be similar to the mentioned above product. In one instance, I know where a company promoting a similar product refunded a significant number of people for all costs + gave them lifetime memberships with the program.

    Believe it or not , some of the people that run these programs do know what they’re doing, but when things have exponential sales and they can’t cope, support goes wayy down. I can’t even imagine how you’d send out 120,000 Google CDs a month unless you had a VERY good infrastructure.

    Having said that, I really did like GMT’s program, sure the support sucks at times, but I’ve made something like $2,000 following the outlined steps. I’m not making the $100,000 like the site said, but I’ve made more than enough to pay my mortgage.

  11. HI I JUST WANTED TO LET PEOPLE WHO WERE SCAMMED BY GOOGLE MONEY TREE KNOW THAT I AM GETTING MY MONEY BACK-THE 72.21 AND THE 3.88 WHEN I RETURN THE CD. THE TRICK IS YOU HAVE TO CALL AND SAY YOUR WEBSITE STATES

    “Right to the left of the form where you enter your credit card GoogleMoneyTree has this bold proclamation:

    “No Hassle Money Back “Guarantee!
    If you are not 100% satisfied with the kit,
    simply call our dedicated customer service #
    (located in the USA!), and we will immediately
    refund your shipping payment… no questions, no hassle!” I RECIEVED THIS INFORMATION FROM THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE:

    http://www.workathometruth.com/blog/2008/11/19/google-money-tree-complaints/

    IT TOTALLY WORKED! THE FIRST TWO TIMES I CALLED I DID NOT MENTION THEIR GUARANTEE AND THEY TOLD ME I COULD NOT GET MY MONEY BACK. I THEN DID SOME RESEARCH AND FOUND THE ABOVE WEBSITE AND THE THIRD TIME I CALLED I MENTIONED THE GUARANTEE AND THEY IMMEDIATELY GAVE ME THE ADDRESS TO RETURN THE CD AND SAID I WOULD GET MY FULL REFUND BECAUSE THERE IS A 30 GUARANTEE. COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS THAT THEY DID NOT MENTION THIS TO ME BEFORE. WHEN QUESTIONED THE THIRD CUSTOMER SERVICE PERSON STATED THAT THE PREVIOUS CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES MUST BE NEW. HOPEFULLY THIS WORKS FOR EVERYONE ELSE. I WILL EMAIL WHEN I ACTUALLY RECIEVE THE REFUND!

  12. Yea.. David is correct. The site doesn’t put it out there for all to see but it IS in the terms and conditions at the bottom of the page once you get to the page where they ask for your card information.

    And no… I haven’t been scammed by GMT. I am currently doing research on them.

    I guess you need to read the fine print at the bottom of pages more often and pay attention to links that say terms and conditions.

  13. I feel like I have been scammed by Google Money Tree too. I called to get the charges refunded and they said they would not refund. I am embarrassed to say they charged me $288.84 for services I did not use or authorize. I read the write up from their representative and you can say whatever you want to–I still feel like I was scammed. I ordered a simple CD and only had to pay shipping and handling, then they started charging my credit card $72 a month. Doing business in this manner is a SCAM and should not be allowed. I think everyone should boycott anything to do with Google and use other search engines. Even if google is not running this scam, it was their good name that made me feel comfortable ordering the CD and google should stop it. I don’t know how these people sleep at night. I ordered the CD hoping I could work at home because I have a terminal illness and need the money desperately, but I got so sick, I did not keep up with my credit card, just paid the minimum and set it aside til I could find out what the charges were for. Well, when you are sick, the time can get away from you. You are also too easy a target for companies like google. They should refund.

  14. Good news which I discovered thanks to a post by ‘Deano’ on scam dotcom – looks like the long arm of the law may finally be catching up with these scammers!

    “Attorney General Abbott Charges Web Site Operator with Orchestrating Fraudulent Work-at-Home Scheme

    Infusion Media Inc.’s ‘GoogleMoneyTree’ uses high profile name to deceive out-of-work Internet users

    AUSTIN – Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged two Utah-based defendants with operating a fraudulent work-at-home scheme. The state’s enforcement action names Infusion Media Inc. and Jonathan D. Eborn, whose “GoogleMoneyTree.com” promised six-figure earnings for conducting specialized Google and Yahoo Internet searches.

    According to investigators, the defendants promised big payouts in order to convince Web users to spend $3.88 on shipping and handling for a “free kit” that supposedly would show them how to make money from home. Those who purchased the kit were later surprised to discover they were being charged $72 a month by the defendants.”

    They are encouraging other victims of this scam to “file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General toll-free at (800) 252-8011 or file complaints online

    Also see: http://strangelyperfect.tv/3099/google-treasure-chest-its-a-scam-and-a-half/ who has done some great research into this scam and for a full link to the press release.

  15. Just read the damn terms and conditions..it’s all in there. Just read them. Some people think for some reason that they won’t get billed if they don’t want to be billed. They feel they have been scammed. There is no scam…it’s not GMT’s fault if people don’t read the terms and conditions.

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