Operator Of Misleading Website Settles With Maryland Attorney General
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Last week, the Attorney General's office for the State of Maryland announced that its Consumer Protection Division had reached a settlement with Stanislav Komsky, operator of the Joomsef.net, a website that featured traffic citations issued to Maryland residents. The Maryland Attorney General office's announcement said that Komsky's website:
"... exaggerated the traffic offenses by representing that consumers had been "booked" or arrested, and by displaying a space on each webpage reserved for a photograph of the consumer that was captioned "Mugshot Unavailable," wrongly suggesting that a mugshot had been taken... In order to fully view the information about the "charged" offenses, Joomsef.net required a fee of $9.99..."
So, to view a full report, which was misleading, residents paid $9.99 per report. Residents who wanted their information removed Joomsef.net had to pay from $39.99 to $89.99, depending upon how quickly they wanted their information removed. Komsky has since taken down the Joomsef.net website.
Terms of the settlement agreement require Komsky to cease publishing false or misleading information about consumers' backgrounds (criminal or other), to refund payments he already collected from consumers to view or remove their information, and to pay a $7,500 penalty to the Consumer Protection Division.
Maryland Attorney General Gansler said:
"The Internet should be a resource for sharing information, not a vehicle for spreading misinformation... Businesses cannot be allowed to post half-truths on the Internet to make a quick buck."
A number of websites have emerged in several states where website operators post publicly-available mug-shot photos, and then charge large fees to residents who want the information removed. I agree and look forward to more states' attorney generals investigating and prosecuting this type of deceptive marketing.
That the Maryland Atty. Gen. got civil penalties is a good thing as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. First, the penalties should required not only that Komsky cease and desist from any further extortion and/or defamation, they should have, if available in Maryland's law, imposed fines well in excess of Komsky's profit so that he and others know that such acts will costs far more than their profits and costs of doing business, and thus know that extortion and/or defamation is, simply as a civil matter, bad business.
But also what Komsky did appears to be good old fashioned blackmail, which is a felony. Blackmail is: "The crime involving a threat for purposes of compelling a person to do an act against his or her will, or for purposes of taking the person's money or property.
The term blackmail originally denoted a payment made by English persons residing along the border of Scotland to influential Scottish chieftains in exchange for protection from thieves and marauders.
In blackmail the threat might consist of physical injury to the threatened person or to someone loved by that person, or injury to a person's reputation. In some cases the victim is told that an illegal act he or she had previously committed will be exposed if the victim fails to comply with the demand.
Although blackmail is generally synonymous with Extortion, some states distinguish the offenses by requiring that the former be in writing.
Blackmail is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both."
So why isn't the Maryland AG or, if he doesn't have jurisdiction, the appropriate county prosecutor prosecuting Komsky for blackmail, so that he is fined imprisoned or preferably both?
Posted by: Chanson de Roland | Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 09:28 AM