Under the terms of a final court settlement reached with the Federal Trade Commission and announced today, several Florida-based defendants have been barred from the sale of advance-fee credit cards and will pay more than $600,000 in redress to defrauded consumers. The stipulated final order settles FTC charges that defendants E-Credit Solutions, Inc., Scott A. Burley, the sole officer and director of E-Credit, and Zentel Enterprises, Inc., operated a deceptive advance-fee credit card program in violation of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
The Commission’s Complaint
The Commission’s complaint – originally filed as part of the April 2002 “Operation Dialing for Deception” law enforcement sweep, and subsequently amended – charged the following defendants with operating a large-scale advance-fee credit card scam based in Miami, Florida:
- Capital Choice Consumer Credit, Inc., Millennium Communications and Fulfillment, Inc. (Millennium), Ecommex Corporation, Hartford Auto Club, Inc., and their owner, Ricardo E. Martinez;
- ohnnie Smith, chief executive officer of Millennium;
- Wilfredo Lugo, general manager of Millennium; and
- E-Credit Solutions, Inc., Scott A. Burley and Zentel Enterprises, Inc.
The defendants allegedly marketed an unsecured major credit card with a $4,000 credit limit.
Consumers were required to pay $199.95 to receive the card. The FTC charged that for their money they received a plastic “catalog card” that was not a bank card and only could be used to purchase items from the defendants’ catalogs. In addition, according to the FTC, the defendants debited consumers’ bank accounts for “up-sale” products such as auto club memberships and long-distance telephone cards without first obtaining their authorization, and failed to provide certain disclosures during the sales pitch, as required by the TSR.
Based on these alleged business practices, the Commission charged the defendants with engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in connection with the sale of advance-fee credit cards and with violating the FTC Act and the TSR by causing consumers’ bank accounts to be debited without their authorization.
Terms of the Final Order
The stipulated final order, which the court has now approved, bans defendants E-Credit Solutions, Scott A. Burley, and Zentel Enterprises, Inc. from the sale of advance-fee credit cards and from violating, or assisting others in violating, the TSR in the future. The order also prohibits the defendants from selling their customer lists or transferring any business information to other parties. Finally, it requires that the defendants pay $601,031.58 to be used for consumer redress. The order announced today does not contain provisions related to the alleged up-selling activities.
The Commission, however, continues to pursue these charges against the remaining defendants in a trial that began on June 30, 2003.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed stipulated final order was 5-0. It was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and signed by Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages on May 21, 2003. The action announced today settles the FTC’s charges against Scott A. Burley; E-Credit Solutions, Inc.; and Zentel Enterprises, Inc.
NOTE: This stipulated final judgment is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Stipulated judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and stipulated final judgment 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.
(FTC File No. X020038; Civ. No 02-21050-CIV)
Mitchell J. Katz,
Office of Public Affairs
Brinley H. Williams
FTC East Central Region, Cleveland