Georgia-State-flagUSA: An air conditioning contractor has been fined over $1.3m and its business in Georgia shut down after being accused of dishonesty, deception and intimidation.

The Superior Court of Cobb County fined both Mechanics Heating & Air Conditioning LLC of Marietta, Georgia, and its owner, Monty G White, Jr, after posting fake customer reviews on websites and charging customers for products and services not needed.

An investigation by the State Law Department’s Consumer Protection Unit found that the defendants violated Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act in at least 263 instances. These included posting fake favourable customer reviews on various websites, including Yelp.com, Kudzu.com and Google+Local.com. The State also found that Mechanics and White instructed their repair technicians to inflate consumers’ repair bills by charging for products and services not actually needed.  When the defendants learned that certain consumers had complained about these practices to the Better Business Bureau or to regulatory agencies, they retaliated by creating “attack” websites, including one entitled DirtyCustomer.com, on which they posted harassing and intimidating remarks about the consumers.

“Deliberately dishonest, deceptive and intimidating tactics such as these hurt consumers and steer business away from legitimate companies. Our office will do whatever it can to protect consumers from activities like these,” said Georgia attorney general Sam Olens.

Mechanics and White were ordered to pay the State of Georgia $1,315,000.00, along with court costs and attorneys’ fees. In addition, the defendants were ordered to permanently cease trading in the heating and air conditioning industry within the State of Georgia, and surrender all business and trade licenses. Owner Monty White was also ordered to dissolve the corporate status of all entities named in the Court’s most recent order, also including Teldar Staffing Services, Rhino Asset Management, Mechanic’s Responds.com News, Jupiter Asset Management and HVAC Consulting Services. Finally, the defendants have been ordered to remove all content and cease all use of 62 websites that were being used for the purpose of harassing consumers.