At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court has approved a settlement shutting down two groups of Florida-based telemarketers that allegedly flooded consumers with misleading pre-recorded robocalls falsely promising to reduce their credit card interest rates.
The agency reached a settlement that permanently bans the two related operations from making robocalls and selling debt relief services. The settlement orders are the latest in a series of enforcement actions the FTC has taken to rein in robocallers, especially those who try to take advantage of consumers affected by the economic downturn.
According to the FTC, JPM Accelerated Services and related defendants made thousands of illegal pre-recorded robocalls to consumers, identifying themselves only as “card services” and offering lower credit card interest rates. Consumers who pressed “1″ after hearing the automated pitch were transferred to live telemarketers who falsely told consumers that JPM’s services would allow them to dramatically lower their credit card interest rates.
The complaint alleged that the telemarketers charged an up-front fee typically ranging from $495 to $995, and promised consumers they would save thousands of dollars in a short period of time as a result of the lower interest rates, and that they would be able to pay off their debts faster. The defendants also falsely stated that if consumers did not save thousands of dollars from lowered interest rates, they would receive a full refund of the up-front fee.
After collecting the fee from consumers, however, JPM allegedly failed to deliver the promised interest rate reductions and savings, and routinely refused to honor its money-back guarantee. The FTC complaint also charged the defendants with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by calling consumers on the Do Not Call Registry, blocking or “spoofing” caller ID, and making unlawful robocalls.
The settlement orders also impose judgments of $5.9 million against defendants associated with JPM, and $3.2 million against six individual defendants associated with an affiliated operation called IXE Accelerated Financial Centers, LLC. The judgments represent the amount of money consumers lost through these robocall schemes. The judgments are suspended, based on the defendants’ inability to pay, but will become due if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. Two of the defendants in the IXE operation, Ivan X. Estrella and Jaime Hawley, also are liable for an unsatisfied $75,000 judgment recently entered against them in a case brought by the Florida Attorney General.
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