The nation's largest lawn and landscape care company lured consumers to sign up for its services using deceptive pre-pay offers, then didn't cancel when asked, applied pesticides without permission, and billed for unwanted services, the New York State Attorney General's office says in a complaint.
New York AG Andrew M. Cuomo's year-long investigation of Memphis-based TruGreen Lawncare alleges the company, which serves 2 million customers through 300 branches in the U.S. and Canada, used informal, phone-based oral agreements to lock consumers in auto-renewing service contracts.
As a result of misleading solicitation by telemarketers, many potential customers understood they had only agreed to receive and review a proposed contract. Consumers who later decided not to use TruGreen did not return a signed contract, and did not believe they had agreed to any service that required proactive cancellation, much less that they had to pay for it.
In addition, though telemarketers told consumers they would be mailed a contract that had to be signed and returned before work began, TruGreen started applying pesticides without the formal agreement. That's a violation of New York State law, which prohibits pesticide treatment without an explicit written contract with the lawn owner.
When consumers called to complain about unwanted service and charges, TruGreen did not respond in a timely fashion, according to the investigation. In some cases, after misleading consumers into thinking the agreements would be terminated, the company automatically renewed them.
"Over the past several months, TruGreen has worked closely with the State to address its concerns and taken steps to better clarify messages to our customers," said Susanna Weston, the company's director of communications, in a statement. "TruGreen has and will continue to work with the State to ensure our practices and business model conform fully with new York consumer protection law."
As part of its agreement with the AG's office, TruGreen has already credited or refunded consumers' payments for services they had not authorized. The company has also paid $55,000 in civil penalties and agreed to improve its complaint procedures, including immediate cancellation of service contracts at consumers' request, as well as letters confirming cancellations within 30 days.
Consumers who believe they have a problem with TruGreen's services are encouraged to contact the attorney general's office at 800-771-7755 or visit www.ag.ny.gov.
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