An Internet operation that advertised “3.95% 30 Year Mortgages” to obtain sensitive financial information from consumers has been barred from violating federal lending and privacy laws. The operation’s principals have agreed to settle FTC charges that the scheme violated federal law. The settlement requires the principals to post $1 million bonds before sending unsolicited commercial e-mail - spam - in the future. The settlements also bar misrepresentations in the advertising or sales of any goods or services on the Internet and misrepresentations that relate to residential mortgages. The settlements also bar the defendants from using or benefitting from personal information that was deceptively collected from consumers.
In January 2003, the FTC filed a complaint in U.S. District court charging that 30 Minute Mortgage Inc. sent spam and maintained Web sites where it advertised “3.95% 30 Year Mortgages” and described itself as a “national mortgage lender.” The FTC charged that the company urged potential customers to complete detailed online loan applications that included such information as social security numbers, income, and assets. The company assured consumers that their sensitive information would be protected because it would be transmitted using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology.
The FTC alleged that 30 Minute Mortgage was not a “national mortgage lender” and did not offer 3.95% 30 year loans. Instead, the company allegedly sold or offered to sell thousands of completed applications to nonaffiliated third parties without consumers’ consent. The FTC also alleged that consumers’ sensitive personal and financial information was not protected in transmission because the Web sites at times did not use SSL or other encryption technology.
The FTC charged 30 Minute Mortgage, its president Gregory P. Roth, and its former national sales director Peter W. Stolz, with violating the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The FTC asked the court to bar the illegal practices permanently and
order the defendants to give up their ill-gotten gains. The judgments announced today end that litigation.
The judgments require 30 Minute Mortgage, Roth, and Stolz to post $1 million bonds before sending unsolicited commercial e-mail or “spam.” The judgments also bar the defendants from:
Based on financial disclosures provided to the FTC, a $57,500 judgment against Roth has been suspended. Should the Court find any material misstatement or omission in these financial disclosures, the full amount of the judgment will be due.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The Commission vote to accept the settlements with the individual defendants was 5-0. The court entered stipulated final judgments and orders as to Roth and Stolz on September 17, 2003, and December 2, 2003 respectively. The court entered the default judgment against 30 Minute Mortgage on December 2, 2003.
The FTC encourages consumers to make sure their transactions -- online and off -- are secure and that their personal information is protected. Tips to help consumers manage their personal information wisely and to help minimize its misuse are provided at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt106.shtm.
NOTE: The stipulated final judgments and orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission of a law violation. Stipulated final judgments and default judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the final judgments and orders 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.
(Civil Action No. 03-60021-CIV-Lenard-Simonton)