Vermont to receive $30k from online obituary sites
MONTPELIER >> Vermont will receive more than $30,000 from two online obituary websites for violations of Vermont's laws on charitable solicitations by a paid third party and consumer protection.
Legacy.com and Tributes engaged in a scheme which resulted in Vermonters incurring fees ranging from $10 and $535.50 on donations made to nonprofits in lieu of flowers to the loved ones of a deceased individual. They accomplished this by providing obituaries online, which directed mourners wishing to give a donation to a select nonprofit to the website of a third party, called Givalike, rather than to the nonprofit's website.
"We are pleased to end this practice, which has cost Vermonters unnecessary fees at a time of vulnerability. This is a good outcome for Vermont donors and nonprofits alike," Attorney General Sorrell stated.
The Attorney General's Office found a number of problems with the scheme, including neither Legacy.com, Tributes, nor Givalike obtained consent from the nonprofit to solicit the donation. The nonprofit only learned of this scheme upon receiving a check from Givalike for the donation amount minus the fee.
The website did not indicate to donors that neither the deceased nor the family had chosen this arrangement for handling donations and Givalike's donation form often used the nonprofit's trademark without consent.
In addition, Legacy.com and Tributes failed to register as paid fundraisers in Vermont and failed to follow the Vermont Charitable Solicitations Act. Under that Act, a person soliciting funds for a nonprofit for compensation is required to register, disclose to the consumer that he or she is a paid fundraiser, and file reports with the Attorney General's Office.
Under the terms of the settlement, Legacy.com and Tributes agreed not to allow software in the obituary of any Vermonter, or in any obituary where a Vermont nonprofit is listed without disclosing that a third-party's website will be used and disclosing all fees. They also agreed not to solicit donations on behalf of a nonprofit, or use its trademark, without consent. Further, they agreed to register as paid fundraisers before soliciting Vermonters on behalf of a nonprofit.
As part of the settlement, both Legacy.com and Tributes will pay the state for penalties and attorneys' costs and fees.
Legacy.com will pay the State $15,220 and Tributes will pay the state $15,311.
The Attorney General's Office continues to investigate the three California-based principals of Givalike. Givalike is no longer in business.
For more information, contact Charity R. Clark, Assistant Attorney General, at 802-656-8430.
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