Consumers Allegedly Fleeced Out of Millions of Dollars
The Federal Trade Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, have joined 10 state attorneys general and 11other state and local law enforcement agencies to target cyberscams plaguing the Internet. Today they announced 19 civil and criminal law enforcement actions against scammers who have bilked tens of thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.
"Scams on the Internet spread very quickly," said J. Howard Beales, III, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "That's why the FTC and our partners are moving aggressively to shut these schemes down."
The FTC asked a U.S. district court judge to shut down an operation that used spam and Internet Web sites to advertise an envelope stuffing work-at-home "opportunity." According to the FTC, in exchange for $40, the defendants promised to provide consumers with sales letters and pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes and consumers would earn two dollars for every envelope they stuffed. Consumers who sent their money didn't receive envelopes. If they received anything - and many didn't - they got materials urging them to solicit self-addressed envelopes from third parties and forward them to the defendants. The FTC told the court that the "Stuffing for Cash" defendants likely cheated tens of thousands of consumers out of more than $2 million in the last year. At the request of the FTC, a U.S. district court judge prohibited the defendants from engaging in further deceptive practices and froze their assets, pending trial.
In another FTC case, an operator used the Internet to advertise his "discount" Web hosting services - such as domain name registry, Web page design, and technical support - for monthly service fees of $10 to $15. Consumers provided credit card numbers so they could be billed. The FTC alleged that the defendant, Brian Kruchten, doing business as Page Creators, crammed additional unauthorized charges onto consumers' credit cards for supposed "excess bandwidth" use. At the FTC's request, a district court froze the defendant's assets and appointed a receiver, pending trial.
The defendant and the receiver later agreed to shut down the defendant's Web hosting business.
The defendant has now agreed to settle the FTC charges. The settlement bars him and his companies from billing consumers without their authorization and from representing that consumers are obligated to pay for any Internet service they did not authorize. The settlement also bars Kruchten, for five years, from owning or controlling any business that handles consumer credit or debit card transactions, unless he first obtains a performance bond of $100,000. Based on financial declarations of the defendant, the settlement requires consumer redress in the amount of $6,000. Should the financial statements be found to be inaccurate, $100,000 will be due. The settlement also bars the resale of customer lists and contains record-keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor compliance with the provisions of the order.
Law enforcement actions by the FTC's law enforcement partners range from Internet auction fraud to securities fraud and targeted scammers based in the Midwest.
The Midwest Netforce law enforcement partners include: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Illinois Attorney General's Office, Indiana Attorney General's Office, Lake County State's Attorney's Office, Kansas Attorney General's Office, Kansas Securities Commission, Kentucky Attorney General's Office, Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions, Kentucky Department of Insurance, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, Missouri Attorney General's Office, Missouri Department of Insurance, North Dakota Attorney General's Office, North Dakota Department of Banking and Financial Institutions, North Dakota Securities Commission, Ogle County State's Attorney's Office, South Dakota Attorney General's Office, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Wichita District Attorney's Office, Wisconsin Department of Justice, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection.
The FTC has free publications, "Work-At-Home Schemes," and "Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers," that are available at www.ftc.gov. It also has special Web sites, www.ftc.gov/makingabuck and www.ftc.gov/spam, designed to help consumers spot and avoid fraud.
The Commission votes to file the complaint and the stipulated final judgment and order were 5-0.
The StuffingforCash complaint was filed in U S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Chicago, with the invaluable assistance of the Chicago office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The stipulated final judgment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota with the assistance of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Minnesota.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
NOTE: A consent judgment is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint, the stipulated final judgment and order, and the consumer publications are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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