Operators of an illegal pyramid scheme that advertised on the Internet and in newspapers that consumers could contribute to a charity and make huge monthly returns for themselves have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made false and misleading statements to sell membership in their scheme. The settlement of the FTC charges bars Eileen Belcar and Cedrick Robles from selling or offering for sale membership in any multi-level marketing, investment or charitable donation program or plan. The settlement also bars unsubstantiated income or profitability claims and misrepresentations in connection with the sale of any goods or services.
Belcar and Robles and their business, Global Assistance Network for Charities (GANC) were targeted as part of "Operation Missed Fortune," a November 1996 law enforcement crackdown on "get-rich-quick" schemes by the FTC and 25 states. GANC was one of more than 75 law enforcement actions against self-employment scams, work-at-home schemes, and pre- packaged small businesses involving everything from vending machine frauds to sophisticated medical billing services. The firms typically promised "proven" opportunities to "gain financial independence" and "be your own boss."
Belcar and Robles advertised that for an initial fee of $70 and a $50 monthly payment, consumers could contribute to worthy charities while earning thousands of dollars a month -- risk free. They advertised that consumers would ultimately receive over $89,000 a month and promised that if this level of earnings was not realized, GANC would provide a refund. On November 5, 1996, the Commission filed a complaint in Federal District Court in Arizona charging them with making false and misleading earnings representations. The court granted the Commission’s motion for a temporary restraining order and an asset freeze, and on February 4, the court entered a default judgment against GANC. This settlement resolves the cases against the individual defendants.
The settlement bars Belcar and Robles from promoting, offering for sale, or selling any membership or participation rights in GANC or any other multi-level marketing, investment or charitable donation program or plan. It bars misrepresentations in the promotion, advertising, offering for sale or sale of any goods or services; including misrepresentations about income or profitability. The settlement prohibits Belcar and Robles from providing any information about those who signed up for "membership" -- a provision that would prevent the sale or use of the names as a "sucker list." Finally, the settlement requires the defendants to pay full consumer redress in the amount of $4,900. This amount reflects the fact that the FTC stopped the fraud in this case in its very early stages.
The FTC urges consumers to report fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes to the National Fraud Information Center, a project of the National Consumers League, at 1-800-876-7060, between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Eastern) Monday through Friday, or via the Internet at http://www.fraud.org (no period). Complaint information from the NFIC helps the FTC and state Attorneys General track and identify fraud operators.
The Commission vote to authorize filing of the stipulated judgment was 5-0.
NOTE: This consent judgement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. The United States District Court for the District of Arizona signed the parties’ stipulated final judgment on April 24, 1997. Consent judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the consent judgment and consumer education material on get rich quick schemes are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. X97 0006)