The operators of an online registration service for motor carriers has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that they impersonated and falsely claimed affiliation with the U.S. Department of Transportation and other government agencies.
The two were accused of deceiving small trucking businesses into paying them for federal and state motor carrier registrations.
Under the settlement order, the defendants are banned from misrepresenting affiliation with any government entity and from using consumer billing information to obtain payments without expressed consent.
They must also adequately disclose that they are a private third-party service provider and any fees associated with their services. The order imposes a $900,000 judgment that must be paid within one day.
James P. Lamb and Uliana Bogash were accused of violating the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence ACT while operating under the company names DOTAuthority.com and DOTFIlings.com, Excelsior Enterprises International, and JPL Enterprises International.
Certain trucking companies that must register annually with the Unified Carrier Registration system can register through the official UCR website or the official website of their state.
In a released statement, Lamb characterized the lawsuit as a nuisance case, saying that it was “government overreach at best, a failed political hit job to disgrace me at worst.” Lamb said he believed that the lawsuit was retaliation against his businesses for two federal lawsuits he brought against the U.S. DOT in 2013 and 2015 as a non-profit trade group president.
Lamb and Bogash are accused of taking more than $19 million from thousands of small businesses by creating the false impression that they were affiliated with U.S. DOT, the UCR system, or another government agency.
Through allegedly misleading robocalls, emails, and text messages they would send false warnings to the fleets that they could be subjected to civil penalties, fines, or law enforcement actions unless they registered with one of their sites instead of through official government websites.
They were also accused of obscuring the total amount charged, which ranged from $25 to $500 or more. In some cases, fleets alleged that they were automatically enrolled in an annual renewal program without knowledge or consent.
Lamb further went on to state that DOTAuthority.com offered customers a convenience-oriented alternative and were simply filling a need in the market and not deceiving carriers. According to the release, DOTAuthority.com displayed disclaimers on its website to make it clear that they were not affiliated with the government.
Some fleets were automatically enrolled in recurring payments, but there was an option to opt out that did meet the requirements for what is legally regarded as negative option marketing, and is in compliance with FTC rules, according to Lamb
“Their goal was not to protect the public from deception as they speciously represented, but to engage in character assassination to take down an outspoken trade group president standing up for small business and to corruptly put my legitimate business out of business in retaliation,” said Lamb.
Editor's note: Updated to include statements from DOTAuthority.com.