Seattle-based Amazon is among the entities suing the organizers of traveling Amazon sales seminars that will be in Fresno and Visalia this week.
Written by David Castellon
There aren’t many of us who haven’t bought something on Amazon.com, but being a vendor on the world’s most popular online retail site still is a mystery to many.
But a series of seminars advertised in recent days on Facebook and other websites offers to change that, stating, “If you’re interested in being your own boss and selling products you’re passionate about, this FREE Amazon selling workshop is for YOU!”
At least one of the ads offers participants step-by-step training “for building your own Amazon selling business” and includes links to sign up to attend seminars scheduled for Friday at the Visalia Convention Center and Friday and Saturday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fresno Convention Center.
While the Massachusetts-based business putting on the seminars, FBA Stores, LLC, offers attendees the opportunity to learn how to make lots of money on Amazon, Seattle-based Amazon itself, as well as the Washington state attorney general, have filed separate lawsuits claiming that FBA and its owners, brothers Christopher and Adam Bowser, are bilking people out of hundreds of dollars and up to tens of thousands of dollars by offering “inside” information on how to get rich off Amazon.
Amazon’s 110-page lawsuit, filed early last month with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, sums up its claim in the very first sentence: “Defendants Christopher and Adam Bowser are con-artists who prey on people hoping to become sellers on Amazon.com.
“When the Bowsers’ victims attend these seminars, they are duped into paying tens of thousands of dollars by false promises of unrealistic profits they will earn as Amazon sellers. 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,” it continues.
“When the Bowsers’ victims realize they have been duped [as many eventually do], the Bowsers refuse to return those victims’ money.”
Amazon goes on to claim that FBA’s actions hurt Amazon’s image and reputation, as the Bowsers deceitfully suggest they and their business are affiliated with Amazon by using the company’s well-known logo on marketing literature, banners and tickets to seminars when no affiliation exists.
“Defendants identify potential consumers by initially offering free in-person or online trainings where the Bowsers will ‘share secrets for making money on Amazon,’” states the consumer protection lawsuit also filed last month filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in King County Superior Court in Seattle.
It goes on to say that consumers who attend these free workshops are targeted to sign up for additional workshops and training packages ranging in cost from nearly $1,000 up to $35,000.
“FBA Stores then pressures consumers to apply for financing for starter capital, often pressuring consumers to apply for multiple credit cards or to take out mortgages on their property to cover the cost. Third-party credit vendors are on-site during these events, and may have an affiliation with FBA Stores,” according to the press release.
“Instead, the company, FBA Stores LLC, peddled bad advice and in some cases bad products likely to cause Amazon to shut down consumers’ accounts, leaving them without the promised income and sometimes in debt,” which includes showing attendees they can set up second Amazon accounts and they can pay people to give them good customer reviews, Ferguson stated in a press release.
In addition, the Washington state lawsuit claims, FBA Stores encouraged clients to use the company as a product supplier or intermediary with other manufacturers and distributers, but many products advertised as new by FBA Stores actually are used or refurbished, repackaged or of lesser quality than advertised.
Adam Bowser, who identified himself as CEO of FBA Stores, said in a phone interview, “We are aware of the allegations and are disputing them and will be fighting against them diligently,” but he declined to be interviewed further, saying the seminars his company puts on are legitimate.
Darlene Ghavimi, one of a group of lawyers representing the Bowers on the Washington state lawsuit, offered a similar denial of the attorney general’s claims.
In that case, Ferguson is seeking to have the Bowsers and FBA Stores stop their “deceptive practices,” provide restitution to affected consumers and for the court to impose civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation that he claims occurred during seminars in his state.
For its part, Amazon is seeking, among other things, that the federal court prohibit FBA Stores and the Bowsers from using the Amazon logo or any “confusingly similar” logo, claiming FBA or any affiliated businesses are affiliated or endorsed by Amazon or posting or causing anyone to post fraudulent product reviews on Amazon.com.
The company also seeks to prohibit the defendants “from otherwise manipulating or causing others to manipulate product reviews.”
The Facebook postings promoting the upcoming seminars in Visalia and Fresno offer no information on who is putting them on, but a check of FBA Store’s website offers a profile apparently written by Christopher Bowser, the chief marketing officer, in which he states he and his brother sold more than $10 million in goods on Amazon last year, “and we share exactly what we do with our clients.”
Ferguson, the Washington attorney general, claims that in a webinar, Chris Bowser claimed he his brother have made more than $75 million in online sales in 18 years of business — $12 million of that money through Amazon in only one year — and that they both had done more than $1 million in sales on Amazon in the prior 30 days.
As for Chris Bowser’s statement on the FBA website, it goes on to say, that since starting their business in 2009, “Ever since then, we’ve been helping average people start their own Amazon accounts. We’ve helped thousands of people around the world with market research. We’ve developed strategies on discovering the best selling products.”
The site also includes accolades written by FBA clients, with one Florida woman stating, “I attended the FBA Stores class in Chicago, Ill., and was amazed at the amount of hands-on information that I learned and the operation that they have set in place.”
One thing the website and the Facebook ads specifically state is that the “Amazon workshop,” aren’t affiliated with or endorsed by Amazon, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that information was added after the lawsuits were filed.