Court Slams the Door on Ring of Debt Relief Providers Violating Telemarketing Sales Rules

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal district court in Chicago has shut down an international robocall ring that allegedly conned consumers out of $995 each with false promises that it would reduce their credit card interest rates, but provided little or nothing in return.

As part of its crackdown on frauds that seek to take advantage of consumers hurt by the recent economic downturn, the FTC charged that the robocall ring made bogus promises that it would provide refunds to consumers if they did not save at least $2,500. When consumers called to complain, however, the robocallers simply disappeared, the FTC charged. The FTC alleges that this company has defrauded nearly 13,000 consumers out of almost $13 million from this scheme.

The agency has brought several other cases in the past year against the marketers of worthless credit card interest rate reduction services.

According to the FTC, since at least 2007, the defendants allegedly used at least 10 different company names, including AFL Financial Services, when pitching the service. The defendants, who are in Toronto, Canada, and the Rochester, New York, area, operated two telemarketing boiler rooms in Orlando, Florida. They employed illegal robocalls to contact consumers, and then claimed that for $995 they would substantially reduce credit card interest rates and enable consumers to get out of debt three to five times faster. They also falsely suggested that the savings from the lower interest rates would pay for the service. In reality, the defendants failed to lower consumers’ interest rates, and consumers did not save the $2,500 promised by the defendants or receive refunds, the FTC alleges.

The FTC complaint charges that the misrepresentations violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and the FTC Act. It also charges that the defendants called consumers whose numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry and made illegal robocalls.

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The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. It was filed under seal in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, against Direct Financial Management Inc.; 2194673 Ontario Inc., doing business as (d/b/a) The Elite Financial Group; F&F Payment Processing Inc.; Bajada Management Group Inc.; David D. Richards; Baird B. Fisher; Jacqueline M. Fisher; and Joseph B. Foley.

On November 8, 2010, Judge Joan H. Lefkow entered a temporary restraining order with an asset freeze, halting the defendants’ operations pending trial and appointing a receiver over the two United States corporate defendants. In filing its complaint, the FTC is seeking to stop permanently the defendants’ allegedly illegal conduct and return their ill-gotten gains to defrauded consumers.

The FTC brought this case in cooperation with the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities Office. The Ministry simultaneously filed a separate lawsuit in Ontario seeking assets for consumer redress to victims in the United States and Canada.

The FTC also worked cooperatively with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Toronto Strategic Partnership in bringing this case. The Toronto Strategic Partnership members include the Competition Bureau Canada, the Toronto Police Service Fraud Squad – Mass Marketing Section, the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Section, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading. – Source

Steve Rhode
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