Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm said Michigan consumers who were cheated by an alleged online pyramid scheme into purchasing their own personal Internet "mall" would immediately begin to receive full refunds. The first wave of refunds totaling $595,425 will be paid to 1,390 Michigan residents who purchased the Internet Malls from PowerCard International. PowerCard, which operated under the name KM.NET, aggressively marketed the Web malls in Michigan and other states. The malls were supposed to allow the Web site owners to make large profits when Internet surfers used the malls to make purchases, the attorney general's office said. "These Internet 'malls' were nothing but a pyramid scheme meant to bilk money from Michigan consumers," said Granholm, in a statement announcing the settlement. "This trick, without any treat, was just a ghoulish rip-off exploiting the popularity of 'dot-coms'" Granholm filed suit against KM.NET in July 2001 and reached a settlement earlier this year. The refunds represent the purchase price of the malls minus any commissions actually received from KM.NET for online sales. Some Michigan consumers purchased multiple malls. Attempts by UPI's On the Net to contact PowerCard International or KM.NET were unsuccessful.
CONSUMER E-COMMERCE REACHES RECORD
Consumer confidence in e-commerce continues to rise. ComScore Networks, which tracks online traffic and usage, is out with its quarterly report on e-commerce. It shows total consumer online sales for the third quarter reached $17.9 billion, up 2 percent from the previous quarter and 35 percent higher than the same period a year ago. "While the third quarter opened sluggishly, sales in August and September climbed strongly, reflecting continued strength in consumer spending," said Michelle David Adams, comScore Networks vice president. Online travel sales continued to increase vs. a year ago, but growth rates are slipping, the survey found. In 2002, year-over-year quarterly sales growth decreased from 87 percent in the first quarter to 40 percent in the third quarter. Still, with growth rates outpacing those in the non-travel sector, travel continues to gain an increasing share of total online dollars: 43 percent in the first three quarters of the year, up from 39 percent during the same period last year. However, the survey found although more shoppers are buying online, spending per buyer has declined somewhat while new online buyers build confidence in the medium. "While the third quarter brought relatively positive results, all attention is now focused on the make-it-or-break-it fourth quarter," said Adams.
VENTURE CAPITAL INVESTMENTS DECLINE IN Q3
Venture capital continued its downward trend in the third quarter with total investments of $4.5 billion in entrepreneurial companies, a decrease of 26 percent from the prior quarter, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers/Venture Economic/National Venture Capital Association's MoneyTree Survey. Venture capitalists invested $6 billion in the second quarter and $6.4 billion in the first quarter of this year. A total of 647 companies received funding compared to 838 in the prior quarter. The last time quarterly venture capital investments were below $5 billion was the first quarter of 1998, which was $4.2 billion, the survey said. "Venture capitalists have concerns regarding the front-end and bank-end of the deals they are evaluating," said Mark Hessen, president of the National Venture Capital Association. "On the front-end, they are concerned that young companies are going to have difficulty gaining traction in terms of customers and revenues due to the decline in technology spending. On the back-end, they are concerned about sobering valuations and illiquidity." Heesen said both sets of concerns are resulting in an increasingly cautious venture community. All major industries experienced declines, according to the survey. Software, historically the leading industry category, showed some resilience in dropping only 10 percent from the prior quarter to $993 million and 180 deals, accounting for 22 percent of all venture capital.
MATCH.COM PARTNERS MARSVENUS.COM
Online dating service Match.com has signed an exclusive agreement with relationship Web site MarsVenus.com to power online dating on the site. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. However, MarsVenus.com's romance-minded members, approximately half of whom are single, have immediate access to the millions of eligible singles with profiles posted on Match.com. MarsVenus.com features relationship advice and resources based on John Gray's teachings and his book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." The site helps people through all relationship stages and includes resources to help people communicate with their date or partner, along with their boss or family member. "MarsVenus.com is a highly strategic partner for us, and this relationship will drive a qualified base of singles to our site," said Tim Sullivan, president of Match.com. MarsVenus also will work with Match.com as a content partner, featuring dating and relationship content from the MarsVenus.com archives, as well as new MarsVenus content, on Match.com's online magazine MatchScene and selected partner sites.
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE UPGRADES WEB SITE
Ohio Department of Insurance Director Lee Covington said the department's Web site has been upgraded to meet international standards for accessibility by the disabled. "We have been able to remove some technological barriers so that people with disabilities can utilize this information resource," he said. The site has installed Bobby, which takes into consideration not just people with sight limitations such as color blindness or difficulty seeing small fonts, but it also checks sites for their readability by computer programs that "read" Web page content for the blind. The Web site, ohioinsurance.gov, averages more than 15,000 visitors per week.
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