The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement over a bogus tech support service and accidentally found a debt relief company that was violating the Telemarketing Sales Rules in the process.
Mikael Marczak, doing business as Virtual PC Solutions, and Sanjay Agarwalla were among the subjects of a series of six complaints filed by the FTC last September as part of the Commission’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from online scams. According to the complaints, the defendants posed as major computer security and manufacturing companies to deceive consumers into believing that their computers were riddled with viruses, spyware and other malware.
The complaints alleged that the defendants were not actually affiliated with major computer security or manufacturing companies and they had not detected viruses, spyware or other security or performance issues on the consumers’ computers. The defendants charged consumers hundreds of dollars to remotely access and “fix” the consumers’ computers.
Additionally, as part of its investigation into one of the schemes operated by Marczak, FTC staff discovered he was also telemarketing a debt relief program that the FTC claimed violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The April amended complaint which was filed against Mikaei Marczak, a/k/a Michael Marczak, d/b/a Virtual PC Solutions, First PC Solution, Direct PC Solution, Virtual IT Supports, and Global Innovative Services, and as an officer of Conquest Audit Corporation, Wahid Ali, individually, and as a manager of Virtual PC Solutions and Global innovative
Services, and Conquest Audit Corporation
Defendant Marczak operates the debt relief services business described below through his corporation, Conquest Audit Corporation. He is the owner and president of Conquest Audit Corporation. At all times material to this Complaint, acting alone or in concert with others, he has advertised, marketed, distributed, or sold debt-relief services to consumers throughout the United States.
Conquest Audit Corporation (Conquest Audit) is a California corporation with its principal place of business at 300 N. Tustin Ave, Suite 200, Santa Ana, CA 92705. Conquest Audit transacts or has transacted business throughout thc United States. At all times material to this Complaint„acting alone or in concert with others, Conquest Audit has advertised, marketed, distributed, or sold debt-relief services to consumers throughout the United States.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, Defendants Mikael Marczak and Conquest Audit, together the “Conquest Audit Defendants,” solicited, through telemarketing, online classified ads, mailers, and the Internet, consumers seeking debt-relief services and sold them one of two debt relief schemes: Debt Freedom or Debt Resolution.
For the Debt Freedom program, the Conquest Audit Defendants charged consumers an amount equal to 30% of the debt the consumers enrolled in the program. In other words, if a consumer enrolled a $1000 debt in the Debt Freedom program, the Conquest Audit Defendants charged the consumer a $300 fee.
In violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Conquest Audit Defendants collected this entire fee prior to the Conquest Audit Defendants renegotiating, settling, reducing, or otherwise altering the terms of the debt pursuant to a settlement agreement and prior to the consumer making one payment pursuant to that settlement agreement.
The Conquest Audit Defendants started their second scheme, the Debt Resolution program, in the summer of 2011, partially funding it with money taken in from the computer security, technical support business described above.
For this scheme, the Conquest Audit Defendants require consumers to pay a predetermined monthly amount of money into a trust account that the Conquest Audit Defendants purportedly use to pay the consumer’s creditors. Once a certain percentage of the consumer’s debt accrues in the trust account, the Conquest Audit Defendants then claim to negotiate with the creditors to accept a payment in satisfaction of the consumer’s debt that is less than what the consumer owes.
The Conquest Audit Defendants market the Debt Resolution program through telemarketing. In cold calls, the Conquest Audit Defendants tell prospective Debt Resolution clients that the program will enable the consumers to pay off their credit card debt for a fraction of that debt, leaving the consumer debt free once and for all.
The Conquest Audit Defendants also tell prospective customers that they have “thousands of happy clients becoming debt free every month” and that their services do not require any up front fees, a claim that is also on the Conquest Audit Defendants’ website.
However, the Conquest Audit Defendants’ scheme actually has far fewer customers. As of October 15, 2012, the Conquest Audit Defendants were providing debt resolution services to no more than approximately 150 consumers. Consequently, thc Conquest Audit Defendants’ claim that they have “thousands of happy clients becoming debt free every month” is false.
Moreover, since at least January 2012, the Conquest Audit Defendants have required clients enrolling in the Debt Resolution program to also enroll in a “debt advantage program” or “legal protection plan” that costs $295 or $400 up-front, and has a recurring monthly fee of $25„ $35, or$ 55. Thus, the Conquest Audit Defendants’ claim that they do notc harge any up front fees is false.
In addition, by making their debt-relief services conditional on consumers’ enrollment in the debt advantage or legal protection plan, the Conquest Audit Defendants violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
Defendant Marczak is the owner and president of the corporation Conquest Audit, the
corporation through which the debt-relief services are provided. He hires Conquest Audit employees and independent contractors and oversees creation and distribution of the materials used by the employees and independent contractors in the sale of Conquest Audit’s services. In the case of the Debt Resolution program, the materials provided to employees and independent contractors include a sales script that directs the telemarketers to say that the service requires no up-front fees and that the company has thousands of happy clients becoming debt free every month.
Defendant Marczak is the registrant of at least two of the websites (conquestdr.com and solveadebt.com) used by Conquest Audit to solicit consumers who seek debt-relief services.
According to the settlement in this case the stipulated final orders against Agarwalla and Marczak and Conquest Audit, prohibit Agarwalla and Marczak from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale or selling any computer security or computer related technical support service and from assisting others in doing so. Marczak and Conquest Audit also are prohibited from marketing or selling debt relief services.
In addition, both stipulated final orders impose monetary judgments. The final order against Agarwalla requires him to pay $3,000 – the total amount of funds he received for his role in the alleged scam operation. The final order against Marczak and Conquest Audit includes a $984,721 judgment, which is the total amount of money lost by consumers in the scams. Although the judgment will be stayed due to their inability to pay the full amount, Marczak and Conquest Audit will surrender almost all of their existing assets. – Source
If you’d like to read the full complaint, click here.