One of the defendants in a massive fraudulent billing scheme has agreed to settle charges for her role in collecting more than $30 million in bogus collect call charges from millions of consumers.
Mary Lou Farr and other defendants were charged with deceptive and unfair billing practices for “cramming” – the unauthorized billing of charges on phone bills. Consumers were billed for phony collect calls that were purportedly made to telephone lines dedicated to computers and fax machines, and to homes and businesses where no one was present, and some consumers’ caller ID logs had no record of collect calls for which they were billed. The charges, usually between $5 and $8, typically were buried in the back of consumers’ monthly phone bills.
In February 2006, at the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal judge halted the operation with a temporary restraining order, froze the assets of Nationwide Connections, Inc., Access One Communications, Inc., Network One Services, Inc., Mary Lou Farr, Willoughby Farr, Yaret Garcia, Erika Riaboukha, and Qaadir Kaid, appointed a temporary receiver over the companies, and banned all of the defendants from engaging in unauthorized billing. In March 2006, the court entered a preliminary injunction order that, among other things, appointed a permanent receiver over Nationwide Connections, Access One Communications, and Network One Services, and extended the asset freeze over the defendants’ assets. On September 25, 2006, after finding Mary Lou Farr in contempt for transferring assets in violation of the asset freeze, the court expanded the receivership to cover, among other things, all of her personal assets.
Under the settlement, Mary Lou Farr is permanently prohibited from billing or submitting any charge for billing on a consumer’s local telephone bill; benefitting from, having any ownership or interest in, or having any connection with, any business engaged in such billing; and being an officer or director of any business unless she controls, participates, or has knowledge of its daily operations. She and her representatives are permanently barred from misrepresenting that a consumer is obligated to pay any charge that has not been expressly authorized, and from selling or renting the name, address, account number, or other identifying information of any consumers who were billed.
The settlement contains a suspended monetary judgment of $2,964,000. Based on Mary
Lou Farr’s financial condition, the order requires her to pay the Commission all but $20,000 of her assets, including real property in Manchester, Vermont, and in Danby, Vermont. The full judgment will be imposed if she is found to have misrepresented her financial condition.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the proposed stipulated permanent injunction and final order was 5-0. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.