By Amanda Kerr - The Virginia Gazette
Published November 23, 2005
A New Jersey teleflorist was busted by the Virginia attorney general office for posing as a local florist around the state, including Williamsburg.
In a news release, Attorney General Judith Jagdmann said the state alleged that TTP Inc., in conjunction with Flowers With Gifted Elegance Inc. and Lower Forty Gardens Inc., violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act by its method of advertising in telephone directories statewide. Some delivery fees were excessive, and legitimate local firms were blamed for errors that were not their fault. The company, which is based in Randolph, N.J., used 80 fictitious florist names registered as trade names that appear in telephone books, Internet directories and other directory databases. Despite the ruse, the company has no shops in Virginia.The state settled with the company for $10,000 in legal fees and a stipulation that future transactions become more transparent. According to spokesman Emily Lucier, the attorney general's office learned about the deception from the state Office of Consumer Affairs. “OCA received a few consumer complaints from Virginia consumers about this entity,” Lucier said in an e-mail responding to a reporter's questions. “Consumers complained that they did not realize they were calling a business in New Jersey because of the name and local Virginia number used in the telephone listings.” Whenever a customer called the local number provided, the call was routed to TTP Inc.'s phones in New Jersey. Once a credit card order was placed, TTP sent the order to a local florist participating in its “preferred florist” network.
The scheme was modeled after national florist networks such as FTD and Teleflora, where a customer places an order for an out-of-town delivery with a local florist, who then calls a member florist in the destination city to complete the order. The difference is that customers using TTP didn't know their orders were routed out of state, even for local deliveries. Among the fictitious business names used on the Peninsula were Williamsburg Florist, Newport News Florist and Hampton Florist. There were 33 false telephone directory listings for all of Virginia. “No local florists were scammed, but a florist in Virginia did complain that her business was being harmed by these listings,” Lucier said. “The florist said that some of her customers complained that the telephone listings for florists in her locality were so similar that they sometimes called the New Jersey business when they intended to call her business in Virginia.”
Williamsburg Floral & Gifts manager Allison Locastor said her shop was confused with the TTP Inc. “Williamsburg Florist” listed in the phone book, especially since the two listings are next to each other in the Yellow Pages. “We've had quite a lot of confusion and annoyed customers who would call and say their orders weren't delivered or complain about high delivery charges, and it turns out they were dialing the other number,” Locastor said. “We tell our customers that if you don't see a physical address, be skeptical and ask them where they are located.” Locastor said Williamsburg Floral had made some inquiries about the “Williamsburg Florist” listing and was told that there was nothing she could do unless government offices stepped in. Daryl Rohaley, owner of Schmidt Florist of Williamsburg, said that while she hasn't had a run-in with false teleflorist listings, she is aware that the problem exists. “FTD has sent me notices about how they track down unscrupulous flower wire companies and look into consumer complaints,” Rohaley said.
As part of the settlement, TTP will have to clearly state that its base of operations is in New Jersey in all directory listings.