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Telemarketing Fraud and Lawsuits

Supreme Court upholds Indiana robocall law

State can block robocalls, even from non-profit groups

Indiana has struck a blow against robocalls, even those carried out by non-profit organizations.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court's ruling that upheld the Hoosier state's anti-robocall law, which bars pre-recorded messages sent to consumers' phones without their consent.

Patriotic Veterans, Inc., a non-profit organization, asked for the review to make an exception for non-profits. It argued in court that the Indiana law violates the First Amendment ...

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    DISH Network hit with telemarketing violations

    Jury holds company responsible for dealer's robocalls

    A jury in Greenboro, N.C., has awarded plaintiffs with a $20.5 million verdict against DISH Network. The class action case stems from alleged violations of the Do Not Call law.

    The jury found that DISH was liable for more than 51,000 telemarketer calls placed by a DISH dealer to consumers who had placed their numbers on the national Do Not Call list. In the end, the jury said DISH was responsible for the violations and awarded the plaintiffs $400 per violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

    "This case has always been about enforcing the Do Not Call law and protecting people from nuisance telemarketing calls," said Dr. Thomas Krakauer, the class representative. "I am thrilled with the jury's verdict, and thrilled we were able to win this enforcement action."

    'Corporate shell game'

    Attorney Brian Glasser, part of the team representing the plaintiffs, said the case was won on the strength of the DISH witnesses. He argued in court that the satellite TV provider's order entry retailer program amounted to a "corporate shell game," allowing the company to sign up new customers through illegal telemarketing practices but avoid legal responsibility.

    "We believe this is the first and only jury trial for a certified class of consumers alleging Do Not Call violations," said attorney John Barrett, another of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "This was a strength-in-numbers case, one we could only bring as a class action, where we tried 51,000 claims in a single, five-day trial. We're particularly pleased with the message this verdict sends about the importance of the Do Not Call laws, the most popular consumer protection law in U.S. history."

    Telephone Consumer Protection Act

    The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1991. It primarily restricts telemarketing and the use of robocallers. In 2003, it was updated to include a Do Not Call registry where consumers may register phone numbers that telemarketers may not legally call.

    There are exceptions, however. In the case of a business, if you have had contact with the company as a recent customer, or requested information, the company is allowed to call you for a limited time afterward.

    Charities, pollsters, and political organizations are also exempt. That's why consumers need to be on guard against a telemarketer who begins by conducting a survey but evolves into a sales pitch.

    If you are on the Do Not Call list and receive a pitch for a some kind of product or service, most likely it is a scam, operating from outside the U.S. and beyond the reach of the law.

    A jury in Greenboro, N.C., has awarded plaintiffs with a $20.5 million verdict against DISH Network. The class action case stems from alleged violations of...

    Mobile app that blocks illegal robocalls wins FTC cash prize

    “Billions of unwanted robocalls” could be blocked

    Builders of a mobile app that blocks and forwards robocalls to a crowd-sourced honeypot are the big winners in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back contest.

    A honeypot is an information system that may be used by government, private, and academic partners to lure and analyze robocalls.

    The $25,000 cash prize went to Ethan Garr and Bryan Moyles, who created a solution called RoboKiller, which relies on universally available call forwarding that works on both landline and mobile phones, and uses audio-fingerprint technology to identify robocalls.

    “We hope the winners bring their dynamic solutions to the marketplace soon,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Their products may block billions of unwanted robocalls, and help people report illegal robocallers to law enforcement.”

    RoboKiller gives consumers greater control over how and when they receive calls by sending robocalls to a SpamBox that consumers can access at any time. It utilizes consumer-controlled white and black list filtering, and provides personalized setting options.

    DetectaRobo competition

    Judges also determined the winners of the FTC’s DetectaRobo analytic challenge, which was hosted in June 2015 in connection with the National Day of Civic Hacking. This contest did not include a monetary prize. Winners are as follows:

    Champion RoboSleuth

    • Ved Deshpande and M. Henry Linder (Team HaV)

    Master RoboSleuths (Runners-up)

    • Sridhar Ramakrishnan and Shuping Liu (Team Milibo)
    • Charles Julian Knight, Taylor Kelley, Ian Moraes, Rohan Smith, Will Mavis, John Cowhig, Sean Browning, James Albert Snow, and Pablo River (Team RDAC)

    DetectaRobo contestants analyzed call data from an existing robocall honeypot and developed algorithms that identified which calls in the data set were likely robocalls.

    The winning teams employed similar strategies in examining particular data categories such as temporal information and area codes, and applied machine learning techniques.

    Builders of a mobile app that blocks and forwards robocalls to a crowd-sourced honeypot are the big winners in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Robocalls...

    Feds charge Lifewatch, Inc., with running "free medical alert" scam

    Robocalls allegedly promise a free medical alert system that is anything but free

    The Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General are charging a New York company, Lifewatch, Inc., with using illegal and deceptive robocalls to trick older consumers into signing up for medical alert systems with monthly monitoring fees ranging from $29.95 to $39.95.

    Last year one of Lifewatch’s telemarketing firms, Worldwide Info Services, agreed in a settlement to be banned from making robocalls or engaging in other deceptive conduct.

    Now the FTC and Attorney General allege that Lifewatch knew of, and is responsible for, the illegal activities in that case, and that Lifewatch simply continued its telemarketing campaign using a variety of other telemarketers after Worldwide was shut down.

    “Some scammers won’t take a hint,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When we sued Lifewatch’s telemarketers for making deceptive robocalls, they just continued the same illegal practices with new telemarketers. The FTC and the Florida Attorney General won’t be deterred, and will continue to work together to stop illegal robocalls.”

    Lifewatch, Inc., is not affiliated with Lifewatch Services, Inc., of Rosemont, Ill., officials of that company noted.  

    Consumers bombarded

    According to the joint complaint, since 2012 Lifewatch has been bombarding consumers – primarily elderly ones – with millions of unsolicited robocalls.

    These calls are often placed to consumers whose numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry, and typically use fake, “spoofed” caller ID information. They also use pre-recorded messages, including one supposedly from “John from the shipping department of Emergency Medical Alert,” to falsely tell the consumers that a medical alert system has been purchased for them, and they can receive it “at no cost whatsoever.”   

    Consumers who press a number to speak with a live operator are told that even though the system costs over $400, they will get it for free. However, the telemarketers refuse to answer questions about who bought the system for them, and tell consumers the offer is only good for one day. Telemarketers often use the well-known phrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” or tell consumers they may have seen the product on television, to add an air of legitimacy to the sales pitch.

    Eventually, consumers are told they will be responsible for a monthly monitoring fee and that they must provide their credit card or bank account information. They often also are told that they will not be billed until they receive and “activate” the system, although they actually are charged almost immediately.

    Those who later realize they have been tricked discover that it is very difficult to cancel, and are told they have to pay to return the system or pay a $400 penalty, according to the complaint.

    Many of the consumers the defendants called have fixed or limited incomes or rely on family members or health professionals to make financial decisions on their behalf, the complaint states.

    The agencies are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the defendants’ use of illegal robocalls and deceptive telemarketing claims, as well as funds for eventual restitution to victims.

    The Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General are charging a New York company, Lifewatch, with using illegal and deceptive robocalls to tri...

    Feds and Florida tag-team robocall operation

    Orlando firm charged with peddling bogus services to seniors

    The state of Florida and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have gone to federal court to temporarily shut down an Orlando-based telemarketing operation.

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the telemarketer used robocallers to blast consumers with massive campaigns that tried to dupe people into purchasing “worthless” credit card interest rate reduction programs.

    Bondi says her office, along with the FTC, obtained an order stopping the calls, many of which allegedly targeted seniors and claimed to represent credit card services and card member services.

    “These scammers were making illegal robocalls to people nationwide, some of whom were seniors on fixed incomes,” Bondi said.

    Unauthorized charges

    According to the attorney general, consumers were told that they were purchasing services, but none were delivered. Adding insult to injury, she says the telemarketers placed unauthorized charges for other things on victims' credit cards.

    “My office, in partnership with the FTC, has shut down this illegal credit card interest rate reduction scam and brought those responsible under the control of a federal court receiver," she said.

    Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says robocallers are a special menace to older consumers.

    “It’s illegal to sell products or services with out-of the-blue robocalls, and if you get one you can expect that the sales pitch is a lie, too,” Rich said.

    The defendant is identified as Payless Solutions, and Bondi charges that it illegally called thousands of consumers across the country, claiming that its program would quickly save consumers at least $2,500 in interest rate reductions or related savings.

    Up to $4,999 in charges

    If the telemarketers could convince consumers to sign up for the plan, they were then required to provide credit card information. Bondi says once they had that all-important information, the defendants then charged between $300 and $4,999 in up-front costs for the worthless services. In some cases, consumers were illegally charged without consent.

    The complaint also claims that the defendants made a large number of calls to consumers whose phone numbers are on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry, a violation of the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule and Florida’s Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act.

    The telemarketers were also accused of using consumers’ personal information to apply for new credit cards, usually without their knowledge or consent.

    Product of technology

    If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a robocall. The FTC says it has recorded a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls because of technology.

    The agency says internet-powered phone systems allow scammers to make cheap and easy illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information.

    That's why you get these calls even if your number is registered on the Do Not Call list. If your number is registered and you get one of these calls, you can bet whatever is being pitched is bogus.

    However, not all of these scammers are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law. To date, the FTC has brought more than 100 lawsuits against over 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other Do Not Call violations.

    To fight back, the FTC is woking with developers to design tools that block robocalls and help investigators track down and stop them.

    The state of Florida and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have gone to federal court to temporarily shut down an Orlando-based telemarketing operation. ...

    Telemarketers: readers sound off

    Our comments section is overflowing with ideas for dealing with unwanted calls

    Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. No surprise there since hatred of telemarketers seems to be a universal bond.

    Several used our story as a jumping-off point to talk in the comments section about telemarketers in general and trade ideas for dealing with them. We thought some of the discussion was worthy of passing along.

    Going on the offensive

    A reader named Greg says his answer to telemarketers is to go on the offensive. He says you have to let your creativity flow.

    “Start by asking if they were raised by a good family who taught them right from wrong, and if so why are they knowingly working for a criminal organization” he writes.

    Other times he says he tells them he works for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If it sounds like Greg spends a lot more time talking to telemarketers than most people want to do, he does. But he says there’s a point to that.

    “Sometimes I just taunt them endlessly, telling them that it's my sole purpose to simply waste as much of their time as I possibly can,” Greg writes. “They usually get all arrogant and snotty until they realize they ARE in fact getting played the longer they stay on the phone.”

    Engaging telemarketers is a common tactic. A retired Baptist minister listens patiently to any telephone pitch, then asks if he can talk with the caller about his or her personal relationship with Jesus. The elderly gentleman says he is rarely called twice by the same telemarketer.

    Do Not Call list

    The assumption of many readers posting comments is the FTC’s Do Not Call list “doesn’t work.” Otherwise, why would they be getting so many calls? A reader named Larry set them straight.

    “Any organization that is out to scam you will simply ignore the Do Not Call List and there is nothing the FTC can do about it,” Larry writes.

    Exactly. Scammers out to steal your money usually operate outside U.S. borders and have nothing to fear from the FTC. But legitimate U.S.-based businesses have to respect the Telemarketing Sales Rule or face potential sanctions. Registering your number won’t stop all the calls but will reduce them.

    Bad idea?

    David pointed out that if you listen to the end of a telemarketer’s call, it will ask you to press a number if you want to be taken off that particular caller’s list. But Joel responded that would be a mistake.

    “This alerts the caller it’s a real number and somebody will answer it and resells your number to hundreds of other scam artists,” Joel warns.

    A reader named Earl suggests making telemarketing a capital crime, suggesting any candidate making that a plank in his or her platform would win in a landslide.

    Things to keep in mind

    Here are a few points our readers need to keep in mind. Even if your number is on the Do Not Call list, charities, political organizations and pollsters are allowed to call. Also, if you have initiated contact with a business, it is allowed to follow up with telemarketing calls for 18 months after your last purchase, payment of delivery.

    Engaging with a telemarketer who is an obvious scammer might sound fun but might not be a good idea. There’s no need to antagonize a criminal. As for pranking a legitimate telemarketer, let’s face it, not everyone is Jerry Seinfeld.

    When calls come in from people you don’t want to talk to, simply hang up. If you have Caller ID and the number is blocked or is unfamiliar, just let it go to voicemail. Sooner or later, they’ll take the hint.

    Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. ...

    The Federal Communications Commission's other controversial move

    Banks pressing to allow exceptions to telemarketing rules

    In Washington, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to make a highly controversial move that some say would have a deep impact on consumers.

    Oh, you're probably thinking of the proposed net neutrality rules that would regulate the Internet as a public utility. True, plenty of people are worked up over that.

    But while changing the regulatory structure of the Internet has gotten all the attention, another proposal has been quietly making its way toward final action. The measure before the FCC, supported by the banking industry, would make changes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991.

    Loosen restrictions on robocalls

    Under current telecom law, telemarketers cannot use robocalls or robo texting to reach consumers on their cell phones unless the consumer has given prior consent, in writing. The American Bankers Association (ABA) and the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) are seeking changes to the TCPA to create two exceptions to the ban on robocalls to consumers’ cell phones.

    The first exception clears the way for automated calls and messaging to alert consumers of fraudulent activity on their accounts. The second exception would protect banks if automated calls or messaging is directed to cell phones of consumers who had not given their consent. Banks couldn't be held liable unless it could be proved it wasn't an accident – that they did it on purpose.

    Slippery slope

    “Allowing specific industries to carve out exceptions to an important consumer protection law is a slippery-slope, which is why we’re asking the FCC to stop these proposed changes,” said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, one of several state attorneys general asking the FCC to refrain from changing its rule.

    The law now allows consumers to opt-in to robocalling or robo messaging for fraud alerts. Koster says there is no reason to change the current system because it works. He's joined by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who has met with FCC officials to underscore his concerns.

    “Allowing industry groups to chip away at our country’s telephone privacy laws is bad for consumers,” Zoeller said. “It’s the state attorneys general who hear endless complaints from their citizens about unwanted calls and who are responsible for prosecuting bad actors. These lobbying attempts will give violators more legal loopholes to avoid penalty for invading peoples’ privacy.”

    The TCPA is only one of two federal laws protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. Under the TCPA, automated calls or “robocalls” and text messages to consumers’ cellphones are not permitted unless the consumer has given “prior express consent” and the state law enforcement officials want it to stay that way.

    “Telemarketing laws place the burden on telemarketers to operate lawfully,” said Koster. “Allowing certain industries to violate the law and later claim it was unintentional to escape liability is not acceptable to Missouri. Raising the threshold to prove intent makes it even harder for states to protect their consumers from unwanted telemarketing.”

    In Washington, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to make a highly controversial move that some say would have a deep impact on consumer...

    Imposter fraud scheme shut down

    Robocalls used in fraudulently pitch to help collect FTC refunds

    Operators of an illegal robocall scheme that falsely told consumers they could get refunds from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their behalf have been put out of business -- for good.

    According to an FTC complaint, the operators of The Cuban Exchange “spoofed” the agency's own toll-free number on consumers’ caller ID and misled more than 13,000 people into believing the operation had a connection with the FTC and could help them get refunds from the commission.

    The FTC called the claims a ruse, known as “imposter fraud,” that was designed to trick consumers into providing their personal information and bank account numbers. The operation also did business as CrediSure America and MyiPad.us.

    The shutdown order

    A default order and final judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York permanently bars The Cuban Exchange and its principal, Suhaylee Riviera, from making misrepresentations in connection with the marketing or sale of any goods or services.

    Among other things, the order prohibits defendants from claiming an affiliation with, or endorsement by, the FTC, or claiming that they can obtain refunds from the commission on behalf of consumers.

    The judgment also bars the defendants from making illegal robocalls and calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry. Finally, it permanently shuts down the websites that were used in the scheme -- including ftcrefund.com -- and prohibits defendants from starting any new website that advertises an ability to provide government refund services.

    Operators of an illegal robocall scheme that falsely told consumers they could get refunds from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their behalf has been...

    Complaints about do-not-call violations, telemarketers are a growth industry

    Consumer survey finds that despite strict laws, scams and violations remain plentiful

    Consumers are steamed about a lot of things old and new, but old-fashioned telemarketers and do-not-call violations were the fastest-growing complaint category in 2013, according to an annual survey (pdf) of state and local consumer protection agencies conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

    “Despite the national do-not-call registry, strict rules concerning robocalls, and other protections, unwanted and fraudulent phone calls are still plaguing American consumers,” Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at CFA.

    Technology is a major factor.

    “Internet phone service, Caller ID spoofing software, prepaid cell phones that scammers buy anonymously and discard, auto-dialers and other technology make it easy and inexpensive for crooks to contact U.S. consumers from anywhere in the world,” said Amber Capoun, NACPI President and a Legal Assistant in the Office of the State Banking Commission in Kansas.

    CFA and the NACPI surveyed general-purpose consumer protection agencies at the city, county and state level about the top, worst, and fastest-growing complaints in 2013. Forty agencies from twenty-three states responded.

    Top 10

    The survey also produced this list of the top 10 complaints in 2013: 

    1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
    2. Home Improvement/Construction Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job;
    3. Credit/Debt Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics;
    4. Retail Sales False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver;
    5. Services Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform;
    6. Utilities Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service;
    7. Landlord/Tenant Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics;
    8. (tie) Home Solicitations Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations; Internet Sales misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases;
    9. Health Products/Services Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver; and
    10. Fraud Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds.

    Offshore threats

    One of the biggest challenges that the agencies faced was keeping up with the evolving marketplace, especially dealing with scammers targeting U.S. consumers from other countries. The technologies that are used to mask callers’ real identities and locations make telemarketing fraud and abuse particularly challenging for state and local consumer protection agencies to deal with, especially when the culprits are overseas.

    “Stepped up telemarketing enforcement and partnerships between federal, state and local agencies are crucial to investigating and prosecuting these cases,” said Capoun.

    © Stuart Miles - Fotolia.comConsumers are steamed about a lot of things old and new, but old-fashioned telemarketers and do-not-call violations were...

    Telemarketer to reimburse victims of car-buying scam

    The 'risk-free' offer wasn't

    A Canadian telemarketer and four companies he owns are under court order to pay more than $5.1 million to U.S. and Canadian consumers who were duped into paying hundreds of dollars based on false claims that the defendants had buyers lined up for their cars, and that refunds would be provided if the cars weren’t sold.

    The court also permanently banned the defendants from telemarketing and payment processing.

    'Simply false'

    According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) complaint against Matthew J. Loewen and his companies, the defendants called consumers who listed vehicles for sale on websites such as craigslist.org or ebay.com. The defendants falsely claimed that, in exchange for a fee -- typically $399, they would put the consumer in touch with a buyer, often telling consumers they had undervalued the vehicle and that the price the buyer was willing to pay would cover the defendants’ fee. The defendants also offered $99 “refund insurance,” falsely promising consumers who purchased it a risk-free refund of their initial fee if the vehicle was not sold in 90 days.

    On October 29, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington found the FTC’s allegations to be true and ruled that the defendants’ telemarketing operation violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. According to the Court, the defendants’ promises to match consumers with car buyers was “simply false,” and the impression they conveyed of easily obtainable refunds was “decidedly deceptive.”

    The Court also noted that, in order to evade detection, the defendants operated under a series of ever-changing corporate names (including Auto Marketing Group, Secure Auto Sales, and Vehicle Stars). It also cited the defendants’ high rate of credit card chargebacks -- in which consumers dispute charges and get them reversed -- as further proof of the fraudulent nature of the defendants’ operation.

    Court order terms

    In addition to the Order requiring Loewen and his co-defendants to pay $5.1 million, the court permanently banned Loewen and his companies from telemarketing and payment processing. The court order also permanently prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting any material fact in selling used cars, including that they have identified potential buyers for a consumer’s vehicle and that, for a fee, they will put them in touch with the buyers.

    The defendants are also barred from misrepresenting that those who buy their services are highly likely to sell their vehicle, and that some or all of the initial fee will be refunded if the consumer buys a refund insurance policy and the vehicle is not sold within some period of time.

    The order also bars the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any goods or services, selling or otherwise benefiting from consumers’ personal information, failing to properly dispose of customer information, and violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

    A Canadian telemarketer and four companies he owns are under court order to pay more than $5.1 million to U.S. and Canadian consumers who were duped into p...

    Feds disconnect two more illegal robocallers

    Companies tricked consumers into deceptive credit card interest reduction scams

    The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on illegal robocallers and today it announced that two more companies have agreed to settle charges that they used prerecorded calls to trick consumers into deceptive credit card interest rate reduction scams.

    Under separate proposed settlements, the defendants behind Treasure Your Success andAmbrosia Web Design will be banned from telemarketing and delivering robocalls.  They also will be permanently prohibited from advertising, marketing, promoting, or offering to sell any debt relief product or service, or assisting others in doing so.

    Treasure Your Success

    In its original complaint against Treasure Your Success, the FTC alleged that the defendants tricked consumers into paying up-front fees of as much as $1,593, using deceptive offers for credit card interest rate reduction services.

    The complaint named two individuals, Willy Plancher and Valbona Toska, as well as their three companies, WV Universal Management, Global Financial Assist, and Leading Production.  The defendants began marketing credit card interest rate reduction services in 2010.  

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants lured consumers by telling them they could substantially reduce their credit card interest rates, down to as low as three percent, in many instances.  After collecting the upfront fees, however, consumers typically failed to get any interest rate reduction or any savings at all.

    In November 2012, at the FTC’s request, a federal court halted the scheme and froze the defendants’ assets pending further court proceedings.  The proposed order holds the defendants liable for $2,032,626, based on the amount of consumer injury in the case.  Due to the inability of the individual defendants to pay redress, the monetary judgment has been suspended.  However, if the defendants misstate or fail to disclose any of their material assets, the full amount of the judgment will be immediately due and payable.

    Ambrosia Web Design

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the Ambrosia Web Design defendants delivered prerecorded calls that urged consumers they called to “press one” if they were interested in credit card interest rate reduction services.  Consumers who pressed one were connected to a telemarketer who promised to get them very low interest rates or, in some cases, specific amounts of interest savings. 

    The defendants often deceived consumers into thinking defendants were affiliated with a government program.  If consumers agreed to sign up, the telemarketer got their credit card information, often charging an illegal advance fee before providing any service, the FTC alleged.

    The FTC alleged that defendants then typically failed to deliver on their promises. In addition, the FTC charged defendants with failing to disclose their purported no-refund/no cancellation policy and billing some consumers without their express authorization.  Finally, the FTC alleged defendants illegally called many phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.

    In addition to the bans on outbound telemarketing and robocalling, the proposed settlement order:

    • Bans the defendants from using certain payment processing methods, such as remotely created checks, that are often used to conduct fraud;
    • Prohibits the defendants from making misrepresentations regarding any “financial products or services;” and
    • Prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting the efficacy of a product or service.

    The proposed settlement requires the defendants to liquidate virtually all of their assets, including a valuable watch and a sports memorabilia collection.  It also includes a judgment of $8.3 million, which will be suspended if defendants comply with the terms of the settlement.

    The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on illegal robocallers and today it announced that two more companies have agreed to settle charges tha...

    Feds propose ban on payment methods used in telemarketing scams

    The proposal would strengthen protections against bogus charges and services

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to take away some of the favorite tools that fraudulent telemarketers use to separate consumers from their money.

    The proposed amendments to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) would strengthen the protections against bogus charges and services. Specifically, they would curtail the use of four payment methods favored by con artists and scammers. The proposed changes would:

    • Stop telemarketers from dipping directly into consumer bank accounts by using unsigned checks and “payment orders” that have been “remotely created.” These instruments can make it easy for unscrupulous telemarketers to debit bank accounts without permission, according to the FTC.
    • Bar telemarketers from getting paid with traditional “cash-to-cash” money transfers, as well as “cash reload” mechanisms, that scammers rely on to get money quickly and anonymously from consumer victims.

    Unscrupulous telemarketers rely on these payment methods, according to the agency, because they are largely unmonitored and provide consumers with fewer protections against fraud. The FTC’s proposed changes would make it a violation for telemarketers and sellers to accept any of these payment methods in any telemarketing transaction.

    Consumer protections

    The proposed changes also would expand the TSR’s ban on telemarketing “recovery services” in exchange for an advance fee. The commission found that telemarketers who call consumers offering to help recover losses they suffered through an earlier fraud are often engaged in deceptive practices. The ban, which is currently limited to offers to recoup losses suffered in a prior telemarketing transaction, would be expanded to include offers to recoup losses suffered in any prior transaction.

    Other proposed amendments to the Rule would clarify and improve various provisions of the TSR, which requires certain disclosures and prohibits misrepresentations during telemarketing calls. It also bars abusive practices, including charging up-front fees for certain services such as credit repair, recovery services, and loan or credit offers presented as “guaranteed” or having a high likelihood of success.

    Previous amendments to the TSR created the National Do Not Call Registry, curtailed telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages, and combated deceptive and abusive telemarketing of debt relief services.

    If you would like to comment on the proposal, you may do so using this form.   

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to take away some of the favorite tools that fraudulent telemarketers use to separate consumers from their money. ...

    Telemarketers banned, ordered to pay millions

    The defendants acted with 'reckless disregard'

    Five individuals and their company, NHS Systems, Inc.,  have been banned from telemarketing, charging consumers’ bank accounts, and making false and misleading statements.

    The judgment, entered by U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sánchez at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), also requires them to pay almost $6.9 million -- the amount their scheme took from defrauded consumers. 

    “All defendants have acted with reckless disregard for the financial interest and security of thousands of consumers,” according to Judge Sánchez. “They have demonstrated their continued ability, desire, and success in committing the same deceptive acts. The danger of recurrent violations is real.”

    Operation Tele-PHONEY

    The FTC filed its complaint as part of ‘Operation Tele-PHONEY,’ a 2008 crackdown on deceptive telemarketing. An amended complaint filed in 2009 accused the defendants of using third-party telemarketers to unfairly and deceptively market and charge consumers for one or more discount health programs.

    The telemarketers allegedly led consumers to believe they were from, or affiliated with, U.S. government agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and Medicare, the complaint states. Consumers were told that they would receive substantial deposits into their bank accounts -- in the form of grants, tax refunds, or tax rebates -- if they first provided their account or credit card information. In many instances, the callers told consumers that they had been unconditionally selected.

    Medicare scam

    Medicare beneficiaries were told, in some cases, that they had to provide their financial information to continue receiving their benefits. In other cases, the defendants charged consumers’ financial accounts without any notice and without their authorization.

    Consumers often were charged $29.95 to receive health care information, $299.95 to enroll in the program, and $19.95 per month thereafter, finding themselves in a “discount health care program” they never agreed to purchase.

    The court found that the conduct of the NHS defendants, was unfair, as it “caused and was likely to cause substantial financial injury to the consumers.” It also determined their conduct was deceptive and that the telemarketers made the alleged misrepresentations to consumers, in violation of the FTC Act.

    Numerous violations

    Finally, the court ruled that the defendants violated several provisions of the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by:

    • misrepresenting the total cost of the programs;
    • overcharging consumers;
    • charging consumers who were not enrolled in the healthcare program;
    • charging consumers to enroll in what was supposed to be a free program;
    • misrepresenting aspects of goods and services sold; and
    • using audio authorizations that did not comply with the Rule.

    Five individuals and NHS Systems, Inc., the operation they ran, have been banned from telemarketing, charging consumers’ bank accounts, and making false an...