The telemarketing business will be permanently off limits to a deceptive pitchman whom the Federal Trade Commission sued last year for allegedly tricking consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for a credit card that could only be used to buy merchandise from his companies’ Web sites.
Under a settlement order with the FTC, pitchman James Nicholson and a group of companies he controls have settled FTC charges related to an advance-fee credit card scam and a bogus advance-fee interest-rate reduction/debt negotiation program, as well as allegations that they debited consumer bank accounts without permission, failed to tell consumers they would not be able to get a refund, and illegally called consumers whose names were on the National Do Not Call Registry. Under the settlement order, Nicholson and his companies will pay more than $200,000.
The FTC filed a complaint in 2009 charging Nicholson and several of his businesses with using deceptive telemarketing pitches since 2006 to offer consumers with poor or no credit a general-use credit card in exchange for an up-front fee of as much as $250. Telemarketers working for Nicholson’s chief company, Group One Network, also claimed that consumers would get access to a significant line of credit that could be used for cash advances, and that their payment histories would be reported to the three major credit bureaus. In reality, consumers who paid the fee received an online shopping card they could only use to buy products from Group One’s Web sites, they could not get cash advances, and their credit histories were never reported to the credit bureaus.
In April 2009, the FTC filed an amended complaint naming four more companies and adding new allegations relating to the deceptive telemarketing of a bogus advance-fee interest-rate reduction/debt negotiation program by a business operating as Credit First Financial Solutions. The FTC’s amended complaint alleged that Nicholson’s telemarketers, among other things, falsely represented that in exchange for an up-front fee, they could lower consumers’ interest rates by negotiating with consumers’ creditors; would provide consumers a minimum savings of $1,500 to $20,000 within the first 30 days of their enrollment; and would provide a full refund if they failed to achieve the promised savings.
The settlement announced today bans Nicholson, a repeat offender who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with fraudulent telemarketing in 1995, from telemarketing and from selling advance-fee loans or credit cards. It also bans him from assisting anyone in telemarketing or marketing such loans. Furthermore, the settlement prohibits Nicholson and his companies from misleading consumers about credit-related goods or services, or any other goods or services they market.
Finally, the order imposes a $17.2 million judgment against all the defendants, which has been suspended based on their inability to pay the full amount. However, Nicholson will turn over a 31-foot power boat, his Nissan Pathfinder, and jewelry and art valued at more than $10,000. The other defendants will turn over more than $200,000 in cash and other assets.
The settlement resolves the FTC’s charges against: Group One Networks, Inc., doing business as (d/b/a) Credit Line Gold Card, The USA Workers, TheUSAWork.com, and TheUSAWorkers.com; US Gold Line, LLC, d/b/a USGoldLine.com, Gainsway Credit, and GainswayCredit.com; My Online Credit Store, LLC d/b/a MyOnlineCreditStore.com, MYOnlinecr.com, Diamond Executive, NewECredit, and NewECredit.com; James Nicholson, individually and as president of Group One Networks, Inc., and manager of US Gold Line, LLC and My Online Credit Store, LLC; Credit First Financial Solution, LLC; Group One Administrative, Inc.; Tall Pines Administrative Services, LLC; and Sun Coast Data Services, LLC.
Brett Fisher, the chief executive officer of Group One Networks, Inc., and manager of US Gold Line, LLC and My Online Credit Store, LLC, settled similar FTC charges in December 2009. He agreed to a court order banning him from selling advance-fee credit cards and from violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The order against Fisher also imposed a $17.2 million judgment, which was suspended based on his inability to pay. He has turned over $21,000 in cash to the FTC.
The FTC vote authorizing the staff to file stipulated final the order against all the Group One Networks defendants was 4-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on March 17, 2010, and entered on March 18, 2010. The FTC complaints amending the original complaint and approving the settlement order against Fisher were both 4-0. The amended complaint was filed in court on April 14, 2009, and the court entered the Fisher order on January 12, 2010.
The FTC received invaluable assistance in this matter from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the University of Central Florida Police Department, Largo Police Department, and the Better Business Bureau of West Florida, Inc.
NOTE: This stipulated final order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the stipulated final order are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and 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 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 1,800 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.