Tuesday AM December 1st, 2009

Some price comparison web sites are charged with running a "cash-for-ratings" scheme in which certain online retailers paid for higher rankings, while promising independent, reliable web site comparisons. Ed Mayberry reports.

The state's enforcement action comes as the post-Thanksgiving "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" get the holiday shopping season started in earnest.  Jerry Strickland with the Attorney General's Office says several Web sites represented themselves as neutral and unbiased, while online merchants paid to render higher ratings.

"And when someone is deceiving customers and violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Attorney General Abbott steps in and in this case shut down one of these companies who's really using misleading tactics to try and entice customers into using vendors that were paying for better ratings on their price comparison Web site."

Some of the affected Web sites say that their "operations have been suspended."  Strickland says Everyprice.com was not only paid for high ratings, but it allowed merchants to create their own specialized endorsements for an additional fee.

"Well, there was one company called Intercept.  They were really running five price-comparison Web sites.  They have agreed to cease operations or pay the state of Texas $300,000 to come into compliance with Texas law.  Everyprice.com—this is a Web site that we are continuing to look at.  Bottom line, we want to make sure that consumers are aware that sometimes when they're getting these great deals and the too-good-to-be-true deals, sometimes it's the businesses behind those deals that may not be as reputable as they once thought."

Online shoppers who encountered vendors with "trusted sellers" or "recommended merchants" labels were not properly informed that the labels were purchased rather than earned. 

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...