Amazon and the Washington state Attorney General’s office allege in a pair of new lawsuits that two men are running a “get rich quick scheme,” defrauding “hundreds if not thousands” of would-be entrepreneurs by claiming an affiliation with the retail giant and offering costly seminars focused on making money as a third-party seller.
Court documents allege that Christopher and Adam Bowser claim to have inside information about how to make money on Amazon. They allegedly pitched their experience and track record to get people to attend seminars at a cost of up to $35,000. In marketing materials, the pair claim they have made more than $50 million selling goods on Amazon, including $12 million last year alone.
Amazon and the AG’s office allege that the two men use Amazon logos and other materials in mailers and emails to give people the impression that the seminars are associated with Amazon.
Here is the heart of the case, from the Attorney General’s filing with the King County Superior Court:
Amazon was a little more direct in its accusations, filed in U.S. District Court of Western Washington Wednesday.
“Defendants Christopher and Adam Bowser are con-artists who prey on people hoping to become sellers on Amazon.com,” reads the first line of Amazon’s complaint.
GeekWire called the phone numbers in the marketing materials, seeking to reach the Bowsers for comment. A woman answered the phone asking which event we would like to attend, but said she did not have a direct line to the Bowsers.
Amazon released the following comment on the lawsuit:
Amazon has zero tolerance for fraud. Amazon is investing heavily in protecting the integrity of the Amazon marketplace for consumers and sellers. Among other measures, we take independent legal action against bad actors, and we will continue to do so. Amazon is constantly innovating on behalf of consumers and sellers to ensure that they can buy and sell with confidence on Amazon.
In its filings, Amazon wrote that they attract people to their seminars by “deceitfully suggesting,” a relationship with Amazon. The Bowsers plaster their materials with the terms AWS — most recognized as Amazon Web Services — but in this case standing for Amazon Wealth Systems or Amazing Wealth Systems, and FBA — the initials of the Fulfillment by Amazon program. But, Amazon and the AG’s office insist the the Bowsers have no affiliation with or inside information on the company.
The Bowsers do not and cannot deliver on their false promises because they have no special information about Amazon and no way to offer consumers any advantage as Amazon sellers; worse yet, the Bowsers actively mislead consumers about Amazon’s systems and what is permissible under Amazon’s selling policies. When the Bowsers’ victims realize they have been duped (as many eventually do), the Bowsers refuse to return those victims’ money.
The Attorney General’s office concluded that “most Washington consumers who purchase Defendants’ business opportunities will not develop a successful online business as promised, earn little or no income, and may end up heavily in debt as a result.”
Amazon wrote that the alleged scheme has been successful, with the Bowsers holding events all over the country, including several in the Seattle area over the summer. Up to 100 people typically attend, according to Amazon’s complaint, and the goal is to upsell these “students” to more expensive seminars.
In the classes, Amazon alleges that the Bowsers to teach prospective sellers to skirt Amazon’s rules by opening up multiple accounts and buying fake reviews for their products. They also supply fraudulent products for students to sell on Amazon and offer costly coaching packages.
Consumers unhappy with the experience complained both to Amazon and the Better Business Bureau.
Amazon is seeking an injunction stopping the Bowsers from claiming affiliation with the retail giant, using its logos and other trademark information and encouraging people to use fake reviews. Amazon also wants the court to force the Bowsers to give up their profits and award unspecified damages to Amazon.
The Attorney General’s office is also seeking fines of $2,000 for each time the Bowsers violated the Consumer Protection Act and the Business Opportunity Fraud Act.
Here are the full complaints from Amazon and the Washington Attorney General’s Office.