A US company offering seminars in e-commerce website development in Auckland this week is allegedly passing off a New Zealand-built website as one of its own and the Consumers Institute is warning potential customers not to get involved with the company.
The Commerce Commission has also received a complaint about the activities of StoresOnline and will be looking into the matter to see if an investigation is warranted, says a spokeswoman.
Utah-based StoresOnline offers "e-services for the small business and entrepreneur" and has been hosting a series of seminars in Auckland. Attendees are shown several websites, including www.beerinmind.co.nz, a site created by Dunedin-based e-Media.
One attendee, Alex Cowdell, contacted e-Media after attending a session to find out how the companies were related.
"My partner and I were highly sceptical and when we did some digging we were even more unhappy."
Cowdell says StoresOnline claimed sites built using its technology "always get looked at, always get business".
"That's when we looked at each other and said 'Oh yes? What planet are they from?'"
Cowdell says StoresOnline asked people with IT experience to leave the seminar, leaving behind an audience he describes as "least able" to set up and run a commercial website.
"There was an interesting cross section of the population at the seminar. A lot of the people probably aren't the sort who could afford it. That's a very rash statement but there were a lot of elderly folk and that sort of thing.
"They [StoresOnline] did say if you were from an ISP you could talk to them discreetly afterwards and they'd do business with you."
Cowdell says the attendees were shown a 90-minute presentation and then asked to pay $99 to attend a day-long session, scheduled for June 18. He says there were a number of people "waving their chequebooks" ready to pay for the company's products on the spot.
"[StoresOnline] was willing to waive the $2400 set-up fee but that still left a $2500 fee plus all the extras that come on top of that to make it work."
Consumers Institute chief executive David Russell says he hasn't heard any complaints about this company in particular but that any company offering "get rich quick" schemes should be avoided. Russell also says passing off the work of others as your own is illegal.
StoresOnline appears to have caught the attention of media and business groups in the US, according to a Google search. The company name comes up in connection with a number of investigations, including by seven state-level attorneys general.
E-Media says it has taken legal advice over the issue and is trying to speak to someone from StoresOnline, although without any luck so far.
"We've been trying to talk to them directly since lunchtime yesterday," says CEO Carl McNeil. He says he has not seen the material used by StoresOnline in the presentation.
"All the information I have has been given to us by concerned attendees ... but all reports are they are passing off [e-Media work as their own]."
StoresOnline did not return IDGNet calls.