DA Jill Ravitch announced that Friend Trusted, Inc., a Delaware Corporation and GoSmith Inc., a Delaware Corporation, the operators of the website Gosmith.com, agreed to a Stipulated Judgment, approved and ordered by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Allan D. Hardcastle, requiring the corporations to pay $270,000 dollars in penalties, $10,000 in investigative costs, and $20,000 in restitution for violating state false advertising laws. Gosmith.com assists consumers in locating contractors and other service providers.
The case arose out of an investigation into an unlicensed contractor, Anthony Burke, who advertised on the site. The victim in that case, an elderly woman, found the unlicensed contractor on Gosmith.com where he was listed as licensed, insured and bonded. Additionally, the Better Business Bureau had received complaints that businesses who advertised on the site were charged for leads that they did not authorize or that were not legitimate requests for bids. Both companies cooperated with the investigation and have agreed to make changes to their website so that it is clear to consumers that they are not performing an independent investigation or review of the companies listed on their site but merely providing information provided by third parties. The companies also agreed to revise their refund policy with respect to charges for leads.
Anthony Burke will be sentenced Dec. 24, under the terms of a plea agreement to a four-year sentence with two years to be served in custody and two years on mandatory probation.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch stated that “In order to protect our community it is important that the representations made to consumers for services or products that they use or purchase are clear and not misleading.” Consumers are reminded that before hiring a contractor to perform services they should verify that the contractor is licensed, insured and bonded and that there are no complaints against the contractor through the State Contractors Board at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/ .
Deputy District Attorneys Caroline Fowler and Matt Cheever handled this matter on behalf of Sonoma County in conjunction with John Wilson, Deputy District Attorney from the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office.