Following is a statement from Samuel Levine, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, regarding the Commission’s opinion and order in the case against Intuit Inc.:

The Commission’s opinion finding that Intuit has engaged in a “broad, enduring, and willful” deceptive advertising campaign is a major win for consumers and honest marketers.

In its opinion, the Commission conducted its own review of the facts and law to decide that Intuit’s claims that TurboTax was a “free” service were wholly unsupported, and that the vast majority of tax filers were not eligible for the “free” version of the service. Instead, they were upgraded into costly deluxe and premium products. As the Commission has long understood, “free” is a powerful lure, one that Intuit deployed in scores of ads. Its attempts to qualify its “free” claim were ineffective and often inconspicuous. The Commission found that Intuit’s “‘simple returns only’ disclosure is anything but clear and unambiguous,” and “does not change the strong and powerful net impression of the ‘free’ ads.”

The Commission concluded that “Intuit’s deceptive advertising campaign has been widespread,” and that it “lasted for years and continues to the present day.”  It found that Intuit kept running the ads “knowing that they led consumers to believe that they could file their returns for free.” The Commission described these violations as “egregious.”

The Commission has issued an order setting forth a  clear standard that Intuit must follow. They must stop their deceptive ads and tell the truth about how many people are actually eligible for their supposed “free” products. The order also sends a message across industry – “free” means free – not “free for a few” or “free for some.” Businesses can expect an FTC enforcement action if they harness the power of “free” in the dishonest way Intuit did.

I congratulate our team in the Division of Marketing Practices for securing this hard-fought victory for American consumers. 

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