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Entries in deception (2)

Tuesday
Dec062011

Clothing Giant H&M Defends ‘Perfect’ Virtual Models

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images (NEW YORK) -- Visiting the H&M website is not the only virtual experience to be had by H&M customers who choose to order the company’s clothes online instead of inside one of their 2,300 global retail stores.

Also “completely virtual” are the models at the center of H&M’s swimsuit and lingerie online campaigns, the Swedish-based retailer confirmed.

“It’s not a real body; it is completely virtual and made by the computer,” H&M press officer Hacan Andersson told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in an article questioning the company’s picture-perfect online models.

In the Dec. 4 article, translated into English by U.S. celebrity website Jezebel, Andersson explained the company’s approach.

“We take pictures of the clothes on a doll that stands in the shop, and then create the human appearance with a program on [a] computer,” he said.

Images from the company’s website show models wearing the latest swimsuit and lingerie looks appear in generic, stock-form with their left hand resting slightly below their waist, right arm straight and face looking directly ahead.

Advertising watchdogs in the company’s native Scandanavia elevated the controversy by criticizing the chain of lower-cost clothing stores for their generic approach to models.

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, one of the most outspoken groups to criticize H&M, accused the chain of “creating unrealistic physical ideals.”

“This illustrates very well the sky-high aesthetic demands placed on the female body,” spokesman Helle Vaagland said.  “The demands are so great that H&M, among the poor photo models, cannot find someone with both body and face that can sell their bikinis.”

Andersonn defended the company’s decision to rely on virtual instead of real models by explaining that computer-generated bodies would ensure that the garments remain the focus of online shoppers’ attention, not the model’s bodies.

A spokeswoman for the company’s U.S. operations compared the use of virtual models online to the common retail practice of using mannequins in stores. The spokesperson confirmed Andersonn’s description of how H&M creates its virtual models, as well as the intention behind the practice, one she said is common.

Responding to the fire the company has come under in just the two days since the Aftonbladet article was published, the H&M spokesperson issued this statement to ABC: “It is regrettable if we have led anyone to believe that the virtual mannequins should be real bodies. This is incorrect and has never been our intention. We will continue to discuss internally how we can be clearer about this in the information towards our customers.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr132011

Famed TV TaxMasters Accused of Fraud and Deception

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Despite accusations in two states of deceptive business practices, the Houston-based tax resolution company TaxMasters continues to spend millions saturating CNN, Fox News and other cable channels with commercials promising to help Americans facing problems with the IRS.

"This is a company which is taking advantage of people, and unfortunately when people see it on TV, they do believe in it," said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has accused the company of fraud and deception in a civil action suit.

The Texas attorney general has filed a similar lawsuit, alleging the company unlawfully "engaged in false, misleading, and deceptive acts and practices."

An investigation airing Wednesday on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline will examine whether TaxMasters' promises are too good to be true. 

In a statement, CNN said the network was "aware of pending legal activity" and had been told by TaxMasters that it was working to address the claims with the state authorities. "We continue to monitor any activity for developments or resolution, and will further evaluate our relationship as it becomes necessary," the network said in the statement.

Fox News acknowledged receiving viewer complaints. "Anytime we have received a complaint about TaxMasters we forward it to them and tell them they have five working days to resolve the complaint," said Dana Klinghoffer, Director of Media Relations for Fox News. While Klinghoffer did not disclose the number or nature of the complaints, she said they have all been resolved.

The television commercials feature TaxMasters' red-bearded founder and CEO, Patrick Cox, who claims his company's staff of former IRS agents and tax professionals "have helped many good people just like you."

The TaxMasters ad blitz has been a driving force in the company's soaring corporate revenues. The company, which went public last year, brought in $45.7 million in 2010, a three-fold increase in two years, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company linked "an increase in advertising expense" to "increased sales volume" in its year-end filing.

The Minnesota attorney general says many of the company's employees are skilled tele-marketers who have little knowledge of the complicated tax issues faced by people who have fallen behind in filing their returns or making tax payments.

"When you call, you think you're talking to a tax professional," said Swanson. "You're really talking to just a salesperson who's trying to get you to sign up."

A posting on the TaxMasters' website last year sought "tax consultant-inside sales representatives" who were strong closers.

"Are you a talented closer ready to move into the next income bracket?" the ad stated.
"Previous tax knowledge is not required," stated the employment ad, which TaxMasters says has since been modified.

Cox declined to be interviewed by ABC News, and in a written statement he did not address the specific allegations in the two states' lawsuits. TaxMasters has denied the allegations in the lawsuits and Cox said the company "prides itself on honest customer service, a transparent process with our customer, and seeking fair treatment from the IRS."

At the heart of the problem, says Swanson, is a requirement that customers pay an upfront fee ranging between $2,000 and $8,000.

"When you pay these upfront, advanced fees, now you're signed up, you're stuck, and the promised help doesn't materialize," she told ABC News.

Audio tapes of some sales calls, turned over to the attorney general by TaxMasters, prove the point, she says.

Salespeople tell potential customers TaxMasters is 97 or 98 per cent successful in reducing the amountof taxes owed.

"You're owing $19,000," the TaxMasters salesman tells a customer on a recording provided to ABC News by the attorney general.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio