September 7, 2006
St. Louis, Mo. — Attorney General Jay Nixon is warning small businesses in Missouri about a ruse by a Michigan company to use scare tactics to sell posters that the businesses could get for free for their workplaces. The solicitation letters state that businesses serving food must place approved hand washing posters at all of their lavatories and hand sinks, or face fines, license revocation or civil lawsuits. The letters give the impression that businesses must buy the posters, when in fact, they can be received free from the local health department.
Nixon today obtained a temporary restraining order in St. Louis City Circuit Court against the company, The Mandatory Poster Agency Inc., which is based in Lansing. The company sends out letters bearing the name "Missouri Food Service Compliance Center" and a return address in St. Louis. The address — 4600 Chippewa Blvd. North #207 — is a UPS Store.
Under the heading "ADVISORY TO ALL FOOD LICENSEES!", the letter claims that state and federal codes require food service establishments to place a poster at all their hand washing facilities reminding their employees to regularly wash their hands. The letter also claims the posters must meet exact specifications, and that violators can face fines of up to $2,500 or one year in prison.
The letters sent to the food service establishments included an order form that offered the posters at a cost of $19.95 each, or $14.95 each for orders of five or more, plus $2.95 shipping for each poster. The posters leave the impression that the businesses must buy them from the defendants, and neglect to mention that such posters can be obtained for free. Dozens of Missouri small businesses, believing that buying the posters from the defendants was mandated by state and federal law, sent money to the defendants based solely on their misrepresentations.
“Scare tactics are a common practice used by con artists when they attempt to separate consumers from their money,” Nixon said. “Perhaps this lawsuit will help some of our Missouri small businesses to wash their hands of these fear-mongering frauds.”
The consent temporary restraining order Nixon obtained today prohibits the defendant from advertising, offering to sell or selling hand washing posters in or from the state of Missouri. The order also prohibits the defendant from accepting money from Missouri consumers for the posters.
Nixon is asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the defendants from advertising or selling any merchandise to any individuals in Missouri. The Attorney General's lawsuit also asks the court to order the defendants to pay restitution to compensate anybody who suffered a loss due to the defendants' misrepresentation; to pay an amount equal to ten percent of the total restitution awarded to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Revolving Fund; and to pay a civil penalty of $1,000 to the State of Missouri for each violation of state consumer protection statutes.