The Federal Trade Commission today announced a federal district court complaint against telemarketing operators based in Vancouver, British Columbia. According to the FTC, the five companies and the brothers who acted as their co-directors, used deceptive telemarketing to defraud many older Americans out of millions of dollars by fraudulently claiming that the consumers had won a foreign lottery and requiring them to pay a variety of up-front fees to collect their winnings. The FTC alleges that few consumers ever received any money at all. Following an investigation coordinated with Canadian authorities, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the FTC has received a temporary restraining order against the defendants, halting their allegedly illegal activities.
The complaint announced today was filed against the following defendants: 1) 627867 B.C. LTD, doing business as Newport Group; 2) 633142 B.C. LTD, d/b/a Newport Group;
3) 683541 B.C. LTD, d/b/a Newport Group; 4) 654679 B.C. LTD, d/b/a Newport Group;
5) 651482 B.C. LTD, d/b/a West Star; 6) Steven Albert Ironside, a joint owner and co-director of both West Star and the Newport Group companies; and 7) his brother, Bruce George Alexander Ironside, the other owner and co-director of West Star and the Newport Group companies.
“Preying on older consumers is down and dirty,” said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC and its law enforcement partners to the north are not going to let geographic borders get in the way of shutting down illegal operations or bringing fraudsters to justice.”
“This case is the latest example of how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in co-operation with our Canadian and American partners, can investigate and disrupt fraudulent telemarketers operating in our country,” said Superintendent Gordon McRae, Officer in Charge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commercial Crime Section for British Columbia.
The Commission’s Complaint
According to the FTC, the defendants call primarily elderly U.S. consumers telling them that they have won millions of dollars in the Australian or other foreign lottery. They then allegedly tell consumers that to collect their “winnings,” they must pay Newport Group or West Star a certain amount, often described as processing fees, duties, or taxes. In other instances, the defendants allegedly tell consumers they are part of a very small group of people eligible for a drawing or group of drawings, and that they are therefore likely to win a large sum of money – from $140,000 to $10 million – if they first pay the defendants’ participation, registration, or entry fees. At times, the defendants allegedly called the same consumers several times to persuade them to send in multiple payments for additional “fees.”
Consumers who pay the fees – which range from $500 to more than $35,000 – receive an “Entry Confirmation Certificate.” The FTC alleges that most receive nothing further from the defendants, with only a small number of consumers getting any of their supposed “winnings.” One victim, for example, paid $4,300 to the defendants and received a check for just $200.
Based on these alleged activities, the FTC charged the defendants with violating Section 5 of the FTC Act and the TSR. Specifically, the complaint alleges the defendants violated the FTC Act by falsely representing consumers were likely to win large cash awards if they purchase lottery tickets – or pay other money – to the defendants. In addition, the defendants allegedly failed to disclose to consumers that the sale and trafficking in foreign lotteries is a crime in the United States. Finally, the FTC contends that through their misrepresentations – which were made via telemarketing – the defendants violated the TSR.
Relief Sought by the Commission
In filing its complaint, the FTC is seeking restitution from the individual defendants based on their alleged knowledge of the companies’ violations. The Commission also is seeking injunctive and equitable relief against all of the defendants, including the termination of existing contracts, refunds of all money paid by consumers, and the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. This includes the return of funds to U.S. consumers that allegedly were obtained fraudulently by the defendants and currently are frozen in British Columbia.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint in federal district court was 5-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle on October 21, 2003, under seal. A temporary restraining order against the defendants was entered on October 22, 2003. The seal was lifted on October 28, 2003. The investigation was conducted by Project Emptor, an RCMP law enforcement task force that also includes the British Columbia Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Canada’s Competition Bureau, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, and the FTC.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant actually has violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint 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.
Office of Public Affairs
FTC Northwest Region - Seattle
(FTC File No.: 032-3100; Civ. No. C03-3166)