A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlement With Networking Website For Sending Millions Of Deceptive Email Solicitations

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

February 22, 2017

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The International Women’s Leadership Association To Increase Transparency In Its Marketing Practices, Agrees To Pay A $200,000 Penalty

Schneiderman: My Office Will Continue To Protect New Yorkers From Misleading Electronic Marketing

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with The International Women’s Leadership Association, Inc. (“IWLA”) regarding a deceptive email campaign in which the company sent millions of emails misrepresenting how it selected its recipients for a business networking program.  Recipients were likely to believe that IWLA reviewed their education, employment history, and contributions to their friends, family and neighborhood community prior to receiving the solicitation, which invited them to become a member of an exclusive women’s business networking community. Over 100,000 women responded to this solicitation in the last 3 years. Yet despite the claims in the solicitation, which was sent to over 7 million people in the United States, IWLA did not actually consider the person’s contribution to “family, career, and community” or any other qualifications. The company agreed to reform its marketing practices and pay a $200,000 penalty, which was suspended due to the financial condition of the company.

“Mass email solicitations cannot be used as a proxy for deceptive marketing practices,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Honesty and transparency are the hallmarks of consumer protection, and those same principles must be upheld online.”

The IWLA is a New York corporation with a main office located in Uniondale, New York.  Its stated purpose is to provide “women with opportunities to meet, share and collaborate, whether in business or otherwise.” It claims to market its services to women at all stages of their career to help foster their upward mobility. The IWLA claims over fourteen thousand (14,000) female members who subscribe to its services and receive the benefits and privileges offered by the association.

The IWLA markets directly to potential members including by email and letters.  These marketing solicitations come in various forms, but they all contained the statement “it is my distinct pleasure to notify you that, in consideration of your contribution to family, career, and community, you have been selected as a woman of outstanding leadership,” such as in the following example:

On behalf of The International Women’s Leadership Association, it is my distinct pleasure to notify you that, in consideration of your contribution to family, career, and community, you have been selected as a woman of outstanding leadership. As such, register today to take your place among other remarkable women; you have earned it and you deserve it. We live in a demanding world! Women are challenged to balance their lives in and out of the workplace, at home, and in the community. These challenges require that we think creatively in establishing meaningful resources that provide options without obligation, efficiency with effectiveness, and relationships with reliability….  Register today; your inclusion will broaden and brighten this premier platform of accomplished women.

(Emphasis added.)

Upon responding to this solicitation, potential members were asked to complete a registration form and consent to being called by the IWLA to complete the registration process.  The applicant was offered a choice of programs for purchase with prices ranging from $99 for a 6-month membership to $989 for a lifetime membership.  Potential benefits include: a personal file added to the IWLA website; a feature on IWLA’s own social media platform and related endorsements; and attendance to various events, webinars, and tele-seminars.

Pursuant to the settlement, IWLA agreed not to engage in false, misleading, or deceptive advertising regarding any IWLA service or otherwise not make any misrepresentations, cause a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding, or omit material facts in the advertising, marketing or sale of its services.  IWLA agreed to not make any statement or claim in its advertising or marketing material that it evaluated, analyzed, considered, assessed or discussed the credentials of a potential member of the IWLA unless it has done so.  

IWLA also agreed to a $200,000 penalty, which is suspended due to the financial condition of the company, provided IWLA complies with the agreement.  In the event IWLA fails to comply with the agreement, or made a material misrepresentation regarding its practices or financial condition, the entire amount is due and payable to NYAG.

This case was handled by Bureau of Internet and Technology Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Kathleen McGee.  The Bureau of Internet and Technology is overseen by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Manisha M. Sheth.