Video Professor Goes After TechCrunch, Washington Post Over Scam Accusation

The people at Video Professor, a mail order company that lures in customers with words like “free” and “trial” and then hits them with $290 in charges, are drifting back to their old habits again. They don’t like it when people accuse them of being a scam, even though they deliberately minimize or leave out altogether the expensive details of their offer, and even though hundreds of people have complained about difficulties getting refunds. This time, the targets are TechCrunch and the Washington Post, but as usual the whole “silence my online critics” strategy has backfired.

The current issue started early last month, when Michael Arrington of TechCrunch mentioned Video Professor in a post he wrote on scams. The Washington Post syndicates some of TechCrunch’s content and ran the story.

First, the Video Professor people contacted Arrington directly to complain that they feel they aren’t a scam–fair enough, but that certainly doesn’t require that Arrington print a retraction or agree with them on any level. Arrington’s response, in fact, was to write back, “It’s a huge fucking scam. And you know it.” Then they went to the Washington Post, both to complain that they weren’t allowed to comment on the article before it was published, and to rat out Arrington for using the word “fuck” in his response to them.

The Washington Post said, “Take it to Techcrunch’s editors, not ours,” and that was that. They left the story unedited.

For the record, here’s what Arrington has to say about Video Professor and why he thinks they’re scammy:

What you see when you first hit the site depends on how you got there – directly or via an advertising partner. The least scammy version is what you see if you go to videoprofessor.com directly. On the home page in very small font is a statement that you are going to be charged $290 if you engage in a transaction with them. But that’s the only on-screen disclosure you’ll see. Click on a product and go to the next page and you are told you get lots of stuff for free, all you have to do is pay up to a $10 shipping charge. You choose your product and you’re on to the checkout page. Nothing is stated about the $290 charge. After that you are on the final checkout page, showing a total price of $4.56. There’s no fine print, just two links on the page to pages with hugely long agreements with text hidden in the middle of it all that you are actually being sent tons of products and you’ll be charged $290 for them all if you don’t cancel in ten days.

Needless to say, people who get this stuff either don’t read fine print and are charged, or try to return it. There are hundreds of user complaints about refunds not being paid. 271 complaints to be exact, on RipoffReport alone.

You’d think if a company wanted to charge people nearly $300 for some training CDs, they would want their customers to understand full well what they’re getting into. It may not be a true old-fashioned scam, but the game they’re playing is certainly designed to trick people into an agreement while hoping they haven’t fully understood the actual cost of the transaction. Is there another word for that, one that’s not tied up in legal definitions?

“Video Professor Tries To Bully Washington Post, Fails” [TechCrunch] (Thanks to Tero!)
“Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell” [Washington Post]

Comments

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  1. dragonfli-labs says:

    Ah, Mr. Arrington. What else can you fight for… except your own failed product?

  2. TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

    ” After your 10-day free trial, if you decide to keep the complete set, we’ll conveniently bill your credit card just $289.95.”

    Sounds more convenient for them than it does for me. Does anyone else know of ANY kind of media on CD (or DVD… or Blu-Ray) that costs $145+ per disc?

    • Rachacha says:

      Corporate training CDs/DVDs from trade associations often times can run several hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the topic and complexity, but $145+ to instruct consumers how to use E-bay or how to write a letter using MS word is a bit expensive for a self paced course, but when you compare it to Extended learning courses, or community college courses aimed at computer novices, that price is not too far off, and will probably yield similar results.

      • TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

        It just saddens me, as you could find just about all the information in these courses for free online.

        Except that the people this company markets don’t know how to find these things on the internet, because they don’t know how to use it.

        It would be like if I were to charge you 150 bucks to tell you how to use a public library, when there’s a book on the topic on a shelf two feet from the door.

        • Keavy_Rain says:

          I am shocked by the sheer volume of intelligent people who are unaware that search engines like Google and Bing exist to help you find information on the Internet.

          So, yeah, I could totally see people buying these CD’s. I almost got some from a garage sale just to see what they were like, but the people running the sale priced them at $40 a pop. I guess they were trying to recoup their losses.

    • oloranya says:

      Photoshop.

      But that’s incredibly complex professional graphics software, not the equivalent of ‘computers for dummies’

    • EarlNowak says:

      Rosetta Stone.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      It’s obviously not the same, but this reminds me of when AOL (oh, sorry – Aol.) charged extra for dial up because it included anti-virus software. Savvy people knew you could get it for free on the internet, and it was better than what AO-Hell was offering. But there’s always a contingent that falls for it.

  3. dragonfire81 says:

    I hate those tv commercials with that gray haired guy, I wouldn’t trust him EVER. It seems like such a sham to begin with. Actually having to send for a mail order DVD to learn how to use Ebay? Something that anyone with a reasonable degree of intelligence could figure out on their own using free online resources? Thankfully no one I know has ever used this company.

  4. Rachacha says:

    Arrington said “[There are] 271 complaints to be exact, on RipoffReport alone”. I don’t know if I would cite RipOff report as a reputable source. There are a number of complaints online about RoR claiming that the site “extorts” money from companies ($40,000 initial fees + $1500 monthly fees in some cases) to allow them to post a response to complaints. http://www.reportsripoff.com/ripoffreportscam.php and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripoff_Report

    • trujunglist says:

      no different than the BBB which Video Professor sites as a reputable source.

      • StanTheManDean says:

        Ah yes, the good ole BBB scam…..

        The BBB recently has had an inquiry about your company, if you register with the BBB and pay the substantial membership fee we will give a positive report to the person making the inquiry.

        The last time the BBB tried to shake me down for their substantial membership fee I asked them if the AG would be allowed to review the membership documents. For some strange reason I never received the written offer. I must wonder why.

      • Rachacha says:

        Except the BBB I believe (please correct me if I am wrong) allows non members to respond to the complaint without membership, and BBB membership is only a few hundred dollars a year as compared with $40K per year. The BBB also does not post the text of the complaint online( they simply indicate whether it was about product quality, customer service or failure to deliver a product) and BBB tries to validate the complaint before marking it against the company (they contact the company, member or not, and invite them to respond to the complaint before they post the brief summary online). RoR does not attempt to verify the complaint, and they let the consumer tell their side of the story (and as we know, people who complain often times fail to mention critical pieces of information about their complaint.)

  5. twophrasebark says:

    I think Arrington and Video Professor are both in the wrong.

    Arrington practices the same kind of journalism many blogs do (including Consumerist). He printed a story without seeking any kind of response from the company before publication. Video Professor is completely correct that is not very journalistic. Further, Arrington’s response to Video Professor that “It’s a huge f*cking scam. And you know it” was completely improper.

    As for Video Professor, Arrington very convincingly documents that the company is a scam and misleads its customers.

    I see a continuing trend in the media and individuals in general to “race to the bottom” in their responses to each other. Video Professor’s appalling business practices is not an excuse for Arrington’s conduct. One does not equate the other.

    • humphrmi says:

      Arrington doesn’t have any responsibility to be “journalistic” if he doesn’t want to. Bloggers =/= Journalists. Video Professor is imposing a code of conduct that they chose, not the author of the blog. I don’t see any mention of ascribing to any ideals of journalism on their site; in fact their “about” page describes them as “a weblog dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies.” And Arrington’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t mention anything about him aspiring to be called a “journalist”.

      Video Professor could just as well accuse TechCrunch and Arrington of not upholding the Super Friends code. It means just as much.

      • treimel says:

        You know what you call a person who writes reviews and disseminates information about products for the public to read? A journalist. Extra bonus clue: The WaPo republishes the piece? yup, you guessed it: journalism.
        That said, no, he was under no obligation, journalistic or otherwise, to seek comment from Video professor. Seeking comment from the subject is just one way to ensure fairness and accuracy. It’s certainly not the only way. In this instance, the story was perfectly accurate. He documented their scamminess. If I write a story that explains (just for the sake of example) that Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist, I certainly don’t have to contact him (for attribution or otherwise) under some dubious notion of what the canons of ethical or accurate journalism require; I’ve reported the facts. Arrington did the same.

        • twophrasebark says:

          Treimel, I disagree. I’m sure if someone wrote a story about you, you would like a chance to respond to any allegations – true, false or otherwise. Everyone deserves a chance to have their voice heard.

          In my opinion, it’s not only courtesy, it’s good journalism. If you’re writing a story about someone, you might find when you contact them that some of your information is incorrect. Or you might find additional information that you were unaware of. Or you might find that their response only confirms your story, which is part of the reason it’s good to contact to a primary source…

          I do agree with H3ion and you (I think) that there are some stories where you’re rounding up other reports and it’s not necessary to follow-up with the same sources. But in Addington’s case, he’s originating a story where his only subject is Video Professor. I think it’s more of a question as to why not contact a source, then why contact them. It’s never going to hurt your story in my opinion.

          • Rachacha says:

            But in this case, Arrington weported simple facts that are somewhat hidden on Videoprofessors website.

            Arrington wrote” Another scam: Video Professor. Users are offered in game currency if they sign up to receive a free learning CD from Video Professor. The user is told they pay nothing except a $10 shipping charge. But the fine print, on a different page from checkout, tells them they are really getting a whole set of CDs and will be billed $189.95 unless they return them.”

            From the VP website: “ANY TWO of the three computer tutorial CD-ROMs are yours free without further obligation, PERIOD. Take 10 days to decide if you want to keep the complete set of CDs. After your 10-day free trial, if you decide to keep the complete Lesson Suite, we’ll conveniently bill your credit card just $289.95 USD. Or simply call Customer Care at 1-800-519-4110 if you decide to return any one of the lessons. You will be charged nothing more, and get to keep two computer learning CD-ROMs! You can also return everything within 10 days and receive a full shipping & processing refund upon your request.”

            What further comment from the company is necessary? Arrington quoted a fact derrived from their website, and the VP website seems rather clear, it is just that combined with their TV commercials that imply you get a free lesson and can order more if you wish that seems scammy.

          • treimel says:

            Well, I guess we’re in broad agreement, then: it’s a good practice generally to contact the subject you write about. I was simply saying that it is not *always* necessary to do so. I still say Arrington’s work is a good example of when it is not necessary. The story is about how misleading Video Professor’s website is. Now, the thing about the website is, it speaks for itself–there is no way for the company (or any other source for that matter) to add any insight to that. I certainly agree that it couldn’t have hurt the story, I just don’t think it was absolutely required.

            • twophrasebark says:

              Rachacha and Treimel,

              Yeah, we’re in pretty broad agreement. The reality is contacting them is probably not going to reveal anything new. They will just saber rattle. But that actually could be an interesting part of the story. Some companies give very revealing quote in these kind of situations.

              The other part of this is that in my opinion it just makes your credibility stronger. What’s the first thing Video Professor did when the story came out? They attacked Addington for not giving them a chance to respond. So if contacting them isn’t going to change a thing all the more reason to get that out the way.

    • MaxSmart32 says:

      @twophrasebark:

      For someone who seems to hold Consumerist in such low regard, you sure do enjoy commenting on quite a few of the stories. Consumerist has helped me in many, many, many occasions. How many other people have benefited and helped out of bad situations by what has been published here?

      I find Ben, Meg and the rest to be professionals and have the utmost respect for the work they do. I think that the recent transition to Consumer Reports Overloads shows just how well they do their jobs.

      I would suggest that if you find Consumerist to be not “…seeking any kind of response from the company before publication” and participating in “…a continuing trend in the media and individuals in .general to “race to the bottom” in their responses to each other”, and thus not up to your standards, that you should go elsewhere? I think I hear Nick Denton calling you back…

      Or perhaps you want to stick around commenting, to watchdog the Consumerist gang to make sure they don’t reach the bottom first?

      • treimel says:

        Hhear, hear. Moreover, I don’t know what Consumerist he’s reading–I see them seek comment from the subjects of these posts quite a bit.

      • twophrasebark says:

        Hi Max,

        I did not write that Consumerist is in a “race to the bottom” in their responses to each other. I was referring to Video Professor and Addington (who curses at the subject of his story). I can see how my post might have seemed like I was including Consumerist in that. I do not.

        I did state that Consumerist almost never seeks a response before publishing a story and this is the case, although they do publish responses if the company contacts them.

        You do misattribute a great deal to me in your comment though.

        I in fact think Consumerist had done more to bring attention to consumer issues than any publication in recent memory. And I had stated as much before. I have also stated that there are stories where Consumerist has held the consumer to almost no responsibility when it sometimes appears that the consumer might be responsible for the issue. And as we all know the commenters are not hesitant to point that out. Believe whatever you wish, but If I had a journalism grant to give, I’d give it to Ben. Sometimes people who appear the most critical are actually one’s biggest supporters. And it is because they believe in the product that they give their input.

    • H3ion says:

      The Consumerist that we know and love generally quotes cited sources in its posts. These include the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others. I think any of us, Consumerist included, have the right to quote these sources without going behind the story to conduct our own research or to contact the parties named in the stories for their views. I’ve often disagreed with Consumer Reports, now Consumerist’s parent, but I’ve never doubted their honesty or questioned their motives. I think Consumerist follows that same standard.

      On the post in question, the greatest favor the government (FTC, are you listening) could do for consumers is to require that any conditions to an ad, whether print or broadcast, have to be in the same size and style font and appear for the same length of time in broadcast ads, as the main copy. If you want to charge $290 for garbage, and can find someone who is willing to pay it, more power to you, but don’t hide the charge in the mouse print.

  6. incident_man says:

    I smell a possible Mail Order Rule violation here. Isn’t the Mail Order Rule supposed to require that companies disclose ALL the costs involved before the customer places their order? I wonder how far a customer would get if they called up Video Professor and asked them if they would like the customer to notify the Federal Trade Commission about the possible violation.

    • Chris Walters says:

      Video Professor discloses the final dollar amount of the agreement on their home page, and in the fine print agreement they link to throughout their site. I’m pretty sure they’re not doing anything unlawful.

      But that doesn’t mean their business model isn’t shady.

      • Nytmare says:

        If the price is on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory down in a dark cellar with a missing stairway with a sign on the door saying “Beware of The Leopard”, I’m not sure that qualifies as being “up-front” with their pricing.

  7. CompyPaq says:

    If you have to trick people into paying huge ammounts of money for your product, then obviously your product isn’t worth it. I wonder how many people actually mean to pay video professor for anything.

  8. CompyPaq says:

    If you have to trick people into paying huge amounts of money for your product, then obviously your product isn’t worth it. I wonder how many people actually mean to pay video professor for anything.

  9. dragonfli-labs says:

    Oh, and,

    “Now you can REALLY try for “free” these CDs — instead of getting ripped off by lying scum-weasel sleazebag shatfaced white-collar con-artist crooks who should have their balls ripped off with a dull spork and stuffed down their throats.”

    That, right there, is a great definition of Video Professor.

  10. topgun says:

    If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.
    If it looks like a scam.bills like a scam, leaves out certain charges, it must be a scam.

  11. aficionado says:

    I have always wondered about this guy, but never investigated it.

  12. Colonel Jack O'neill says:

    They tell you in the TOS how much they will charge you if you don’t cancel.
    Who’s fault is it if you don’t read the TOS? It’s your own, not anyone else’s.

    • Colonel Jack O'neill says:

      And it say’s it right on the home page, in the same size font as the rest of the site. So if he thinks that’s small, he needs glasses.

      This doesn’t seem like a scam to me, they’re disclosing the price to you before you order anything.

    • Nytmare says:

      When’s the last time you bought something legit online where the price was in the terms of service fine print instead of the order page? I have never seen that.

  13. danielem1 says:

    Yes, there is a word that isn’t tied up in legal definitions. In “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit” show on Showtime, in the first episode, they mention the reason they called the show that was because you can call anything bullshit and there are no legal ramifications, you can’t call it a lie or a scam etc but bullshit is outside of libel and slander I guess.

    So Video Professor is bullshit!

  14. Bohemian says:

    All of these seen on TV products have the same hidden or obfuscated additional fees or memberships as the main scam. The lousy products are just the distraction. Enzyte, Snuggie, these guys and many of the other companies pushing dodgy products do this, sell you something but then pile on extra fees or a membership the consumer didn’t realize was there.

    There needs to be a law banning the core concept all of these companies use to do the various takes on the same scam.

  15. twophrasebark says:

    Hi Max,

    I did not write that Consumerist is in a “race to the bottom” in their responses to each other. I was referring to Video Professor and Addington (who curses at the subject of his story). I can see how my post might have seemed like I was including Consumerist in that. I do not.

    I did state that Consumerist almost never seeks a response before publishing a story and this is the case, although they do publish responses if the company contacts them.

    You do misattribute a great deal to me in your comment though.

    I in fact think Consumerist had done more to bring attention to consumer issues than any publication in recent memory. And I had stated as much before. I have also stated that there are stories where Consumerist has held the consumer to almost no responsibility when it sometimes appears that the consumer might be responsible for the issue. And as we all know the commenters are not hesitant to point that out. Believe whatever you wish, but If I had a journalism grant to give, I’d give it to Ben. Sometimes people who appear the most critical are actually one’s biggest supporters. And it is because they believe in the product that they give their input.

  16. Crutnacker says:

    This proves what a farce the BBB is. This company gets an A (A?????) rating with over 1100 complaints. HOW!?!?!?!?!

  17. mattholomew says:

    This company has 4 Better Business Bureau listings, 2 in Canada and 2 in the US. Of the 4, only one (the location in Denver) is BBB accredited. There are zero complaints listed for any of the locations, which is fishy in itself — even the best companies are going to have SOME BBB complaints. Anybody have an idea what’s going on here?

    • AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

      Um, it’s the BBB, that’s what’s going on. The BBB is as much a scam as the other shady companies called out here – pay enough for your “membership fee” and ta-da! You’re accredited and any complaints against you are refused by the BBB as ‘invalid’

  18. thisistobehelpful says:

    Ok, I know I shouldn’t point this out but they put an apostrophe in a pluralization. Does no one check the copy for distributed business materials any more?

    /grammar nazi

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I highly doubt the people they’re trying to dupe are the most attentive people when it comes to grammar. The people who fall for this are probably still trying to figure out just when television became color or where they left their teeth.

  19. AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

    On a side note, anyone know why there’s a registered mark after “product”? Surely they can’t register the word “product” or even the phrase, “Try my product” . . . . can they?

  20. PsiCop says:

    Ugh. If only it wasn’t Arrington. His credibility at the moment is … shall we say … just shy of non-existent. After treating the world to stories of this amazing, “dead simple” and super-cheap “Web tablet” for something like a year and a half, he finally announces — just days away from its supposed release to retail — that, well, it will never see the light of day. Yes, that’s right … just when they presumably were in the middle of assembling some of the CrunchPad’s initial run, they suddenly decided they weren’t doing to make any.

    According to Arrington, everyone involved except himself is to blame for this debacle.

    That said, anyone who knows anything about Video Professor knows they’re, well, scam-like, if not an outright scam. And the company’s hypersensitivity to “defamation” has already been covered on Consumerist.

    • theblackdog says:

      Let’s not forget that TechCrunch also was the one who got all fanboi about CAsh4Gold, saying they had every right to make money, even if it was by undercutting their customers on pricing.

  21. jpdanzig says:

    The FTC needs to shut down the Video Professor (and other direct response companies like them) once and for all.

    I’ve read scores of consumer complaints about them at Ripoff Reports and similar sites as well.

    Any company who hides charges in fine print and dodges customers’ repeated attempts to obtain a refund is obviously up to no good…

  22. vladthepaler says:

    Wow, I had no idea Video Professor was such a scam. Kind of ironic that I learned it as a direct result of Video Professor’s counterclaim… I don’t read the Washington Post and I’ve never even heard of TechCrunch.

  23. rhys1882 says:

    There’s no legal definition of “scam.”

  24. feckingmorons says:

    I don’t see any problem. The front page of the site says that you can keep 2 out of 3 of the DVDs and you don’t pay anything. You have ten days to make up your mind. If you keep them past 10 days and don’t call or send them back you are charged ~300 bucks.

    The type is at least as big as these comments and it is at the left front of the page above the fold. While it is not a business model I would choose, I don’t see it as a scam.