PhotoA proposed settlement has been reached between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Process America Inc. and its owners, resolving allegations that the payment processor used unfair tactics to open and maintain scores of merchant accounts for Infusion Media which perpetrated the “Google Money Tree” work-at-home scheme.

Using these merchant accounts, Infusion Media charged more than $15 million in unauthorized charges on consumers’ debit and credit card accounts.

Payment processors and Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs) enable merchants to charge consumers’ credit cards for products and services. In exchange, they get paid for each payment transaction the merchant processes.

False claims alleged

In June 2009, the FTC charged the Infusion Media defendants with falsely claiming that consumers could earn $100,000 in six months, misrepresenting an affiliation with Google, and tricking consumers into signing up for automatic monthly charges that would continue until the consumer took affirmative steps to cancel.

The complaint against Process America claims the defendants knew or should have known that they were processing charges that consumers had not authorized. Evidence that consumers were being charged without their permission included plainly deceptive statements on merchant websites, notices that the merchant should be placed in Visa and MasterCard chargeback monitoring programs, and chronically excessive chargeback rates -- the percentage of charges that are challenged by consumers and result in the charges being reversed.

From 2008 through 2009, the defendants opened and maintained 131 merchant accounts through which the perpetrators processed more than $15 million in unauthorized charges on consumer debit and credit card accounts.

To keep Infusion Media’s merchant accounts open, the defendants allegedly engaged in tactics that were designed to evade fraud monitoring programs implemented by Visa and MasterCard. These tactics included submitting merchant applications containing false information and “load balancing” – distributing transaction volume among numerous merchant accounts. As a result, Infusion Media’s scam operated for nearly a year, and Process America continued to earn fees from its payment processing activity.

Resolving the charges

To resolve the allegations in the complaint, the individual defendants -- Kim Ricketts, Keith Phillips and Craig Rickard -- have agreed to separate permanent injunctions containing prohibitions and restrictions on their future payment processing activities:

Rickard is banned from payment processing and acting as an ISO. He is prohibited from acting as a sales agent for any client engaged in (a) unfair or deceptive business practices; (b) certain categories of high-risk activities, including negative-option marketing (where the seller interprets consumers’ silence or inaction as permission to charge them), money-making opportunities, credit card or identity theft protection, timeshare resale services, buying clubs, medical discount plans; or (c) conduct that has qualified a client for a chargeback monitoring program.

He also is prohibited from acting as a sales agent for any client without first screening them for unfair or deceptive business practices. The order imposes a judgment of more than $184,000 that will be suspended based on his inability to pay. The full judgment will become due immediately if Rickard is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.

Ricketts and Phillips are prohibited from acting as payment processors, ISOs, or sales agents for any client engaged in (a) unfair or deceptive business practices; or (b) certain categories of high-risk activities certain categories of high-risk clients. They also are barred from acting as a sales agent for any client without screening and monitoring them for unfair or deceptive business practices.

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