Bruce Moneymaker, Mike Smith, Michael Bruce Millerd, Fortress Secured, Daniel de la Cruz, Belfort Capital Ventures, Dynamic Online Solutions, HSC Labs, and Seaside Ventures Trust were all charged with unfairly and deceptively billing consumers without their consent, and not providing promised refunds, in violation of federal law. At the FTC’s request, a federal court temporarily halted the defendants’ deceptive practices pending further proceedings, froze their assets, and appointed a receiver to take control of the business and its assets. The FTC seeks to stop their illegal practices and make them give up their ill-gotten gains and provide refunds to consumers.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Michael Bruce Moneymaker, Daniel De La Cruz, and their companies obtained consumers’ personal information from websites that claimed to match consumers with payday lenders, and then enrolled consumers, without their knowledge, in one or more of several worthless “continuity” programs. These programs included an up-front cost of up to $49.99 each, plus additional weekly or monthly recurring fees of up to $19.98. Continuity programs charge recurring fees until a consumer takes affirmative action to cancel.
The complaint alleges that after consumers submitted their personal information online, they encountered a pop-up box titled “Terms and Conditions” that appeared to be a part of their payday loan application. This pop-up box asked consumers to provide an authorization but made no mention of the defendants or their continuity programs. In many instances, consumers believed the pop-up box was part of their payday loan application and provided the requested authorization.
The FTC alleges that the defendants used consumers’ bank account information, obtained through their payday loan applications, to create and deposit “remotely created checks” to pay for the continuity programs. Consumers learned of their enrollment in the defendants’ continuity programs only when they checked their bank account, or when their bank accounts were overdrawn because of the defendants’ unauthorized debits. Frequently when consumers called the defendants’ customer service numbers to cancel or seek a refund, no one would answer the line, the line would go dead, or the consumer would be put on hold for an extended period of time. If consumers actually reached someone in the defendants’ call center, the defendants’ employees attempted to dissuade them from demanding their money back.
The defendants’ call center employees allegedly told consumers they authorized the charges as part of a payday loan application and that they were being charged for a third-party offer with benefits including a free stored-value Visa card, free voicemail, free airline tickets, and a $10,000 secured credit line. Call center employees also promised consumers refunds that consumers never received. In some instances, consumers who had been enrolled in multiple programs were told they had to call separate numbers to discuss each one, even though the call center handled calls for all of the defendants’ programs.
The defendants allegedly told call center employees to limit the number of refunds offered and evaluated employees’ performance based on their ability to keep the refund rate as low as possible. The defendants’ employees often refused refund requests, gave refunds only to the most persistent consumers, or falsely promised refunds until consumers stopped calling. Some consumers were told, falsely, that a manager would call them or their calls would be returned.
The FTC charges that the defendants violated the FTC Act by:
- obtaining consumers’ bank account information and debiting their accounts without their express informed consent;
- falsely representing that consumers’ authorizations were part of their payday loan applications;
- failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose that consumers would be charged for third-party trial offers automatically extended to them;
- falsely telling consumers that they were not entitled to refunds because they agreed to enroll in the defendants’ programs and pay for them, and had agreed that they could get a refund only if they asked during the initial trial period; and
- falsely promising refunds to consumers and not providing the refunds.
The FTC complaint names Michael Bruce Moneymaker, also known as Bruce Moneymaker, Mike Smith, and Michael Bruce Millerd, and also doing business as Fortress Secured; Daniel De La Cruz; Belfort Capital Ventures, Inc.; Dynamic Online Solutions, LLC; HSC Labs, Inc.; Red Dust Studios, Inc.; and Seaside Ventures Trust and its trustee. – Source