A federal district court has ordered several marketers to stop using Internet spam to sell so-called "international driver's permits" (IDPs). The Federal Trade Commission charges sellers who, under the guise of "international law," pitched their worthless documents to immigrants and other consumers who were seeking an alternative to a government-issued driver's license or identification document.

Authentic IDPs, which are available in the U.S. from only two authorized agencies, American Automobile Association (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), have a very limited use and purpose.

"The defendants deceptively marketed bogus documents," said J. Howard Beales III, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "They misled people with limited English proficiency and those whose licenses have been revoked about the value and the purpose of the IDP. And they charged them exorbitant fees. We're pleased that the FTC can put this scam in park." He noted that while the permits being deceptively marketed on the Internet typically sold for between $65 and $375, the real IDPs offered by AAA and the AATA are just $10 apiece.

Legitimate IDPs, which are issued under the United Nations Road Traffic Convention of 1949, assist a person with a valid driver's license to drive in foreign countries that have also signed the Convention. Notably, an IDP is not a substitute for a government-issued driver's license; rather it is simply a booklet that translates that government-issued driver's license into a number of different languages. Therefore, IDPs merely serve as a translation document for a government-issued driver's license, and they have no value independent of such government-issued licenses. IDPs do not protect their holders from traffic enforcement or from "points," and cannot be used in place of suspended or revoked license, or as identification in lieu of a government-issued document.

"The FTC's action helps alert consumers to these scams, while letting bogus marketers know this conduct won't be tolerated," said Sandra Hughes, vice president of AAA Travel. "These scams lead innocent travelers to spend hundreds of dollars for false documents. Even worse, they encourage unlicensed drivers to return to our highways, endangering all of us."

The Complaints

The FTC filed complaints in federal district court against the following defendants:

  • Yad Abraham (Abraham), also known as (a.k.a.) Tim Thorn and Timothy Thorn, individually and doing business as (d.b.a.) Sharpthorn Internet Solutions and Internex, LLC;
  • Jaguar Business Concepts, LP d.b.a. Libertymall.com, Cheyenne Investment Alliance, LLC (Cheyenne), and Jacqueline Demer, individually and as member/manager of Cheyenne;
  • Jordan Maxwell, a.k.a. Russell Pine, individually and doing business as BBCOA, a.k.a. BBC of America, a.k.a. Better Book and Cassette of America, and Vic Varjabedian, a.k.a. Victor Varjabedian, a.k.a. Varouj Varjabedian, individually;
  • William Scott Dion, individually and d.b.a. PT Resource Center and PTRC, a.k.a. Don Glessner;
  • Carlton Press, Inc., Carlton Press, Ltd., and Kim Fleming Bo Weiss; and
  • one or more parties d.b.a. the Institute for International Licensing (IIL), Aladdin Financial Management, University Systems, and Wheelie International Limited.

In each complaint, the Commission alleges that, in violation of the FTC Act, the defendants falsely claim that their IDPs are a legitimate alternative to a state-issued driver's license, and misrepresent that: 1) their IDPs authorize consumers to drive legally in the United States; 2) their IDPs allow consumers to avoid points or traffic violations, as well as sanctions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license; and 3) their IDPs can be used in the United States as an identification document in the same ways that a person uses a government-issued photo identification document.

Consumer Education

Consumers seeking more information about how to avoid potentially deceptive ads for IDPs are encouraged to read the new FTC consumer alert: "Ads for International Driver's Licenses or Permits Could be a Dead End." This publication, which is available on the Commission's Web site also cautions consumers that it is against the law for U.S. citizens and residents to use an international driver's permit in place of their state-issued driver's license.