False promises of a pre-approved, guaranteed MasterCard for a fee have been halted by a U.S. District Court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is also announcing today charges against a mortgage broker who offered his Spanish-speaking customers one set of terms verbally in Spanish, and another set of terms in documents written entirely in English. Also, the FTC staff sent guidance letters today to the owners and operators of 40 radio and television stations that ran Spanish-language ads that the FTC challenged as deceptive. The announcements came at a workshop held in San Diego today for law enforcement officials, consumer groups, and Hispanic leaders to discuss new ways to fight fraud in the community.
“We are committed to a continued presence in this community, both in our law enforcement and education efforts,” said Tom Syta, Assistant Director of the FTC’s Western Region. “At this workshop, we are all working to develop even more ways to fight fraud that tries to hide behind the Spanish language.”
Today’s Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Forum was sponsored by the FTC, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. It is the latest in a series of workshops by the FTC and the USPIS that aim to identify local problems and discuss ways to address them; facilitate open dialogue with local government, consumer groups, and members of the Hispanic community on issues affecting Hispanic consumers; and share consumer education resources to help local communities conduct outreach about fraud, how to prevent it, and where to report it. Workshops already have been held in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. Events in Las Vegas and New York are planned for later this year.
Law Enforcement Actions
At the San Diego event, the FTC announced the following law enforcement actions:
Remote Response Corporation
A federal district judge in Miami has entered an order temporarily halting a scheme targeting Spanish-speaking consumers with promises of a guaranteed, pre-approved MasterCard for an advance fee ranging from $138-$200 (along with a number of free items such as an ATM card and a phone card), and a free-trial membership in a discount health plan. According to the FTC’s complaint, many of the consumers never received a MasterCard, instead receiving only a random combination of the free items. Many received nothing at all. The complaint also alleges the defendants charged consumers’ credit cards or bank accounts for the discount health plan on a recurring basis without receiving their express, informed consent. The defendants marketed the products through Spanish-language commercials that appear on Spanish-language television networks, such as Telemundo, Telefutura, and Galavision, and on a Spanish-language Web site.
The temporary restraining order entered by the district court freezes the defendants’ assets and prohibits them from the law violations alleged by the FTC. The defendants in this case are Remote Response Corporation (also doing business as Amerikash, Global-Amerikash, Amerikhealth, and Instant Way), Alberto Salama, Instant Way Corporation, and German Espitia. The complaint was filed and the ex parte temporary restraining order was entered on January 23, 2006, in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for February 13, 2006.
Mortgages Para Hispanos
A mortgage broker operating out of Plano, Texas, targeted Hispanic consumers for mortgage refinancing. According to the FTC’s complaint, Daniel Moises Goldberg, also known as Daniel Martinez, conducted his business transactions with clients almost exclusively in Spanish and promised them certain monthly payments, interest rates, annual percentage rates, finance charges, terms of repayment and cash-back payments from their home equity. But, when it was time for the closing, he presented his customers with documents written entirely in English that provided less favorable terms that those they were verbally promised.
The defendants in this case are Goldberg and his company, Mortgages Para Hispanos.Com Corporation. The FTC would like to thank the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Dallas office and the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending for their assistance. The complaint was filed January 18, 2006 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file in each case was 5-0.
The FTC staff sent letters today to the owners and operators of 40 television and radio stations in markets such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Chicago, and New York. The letters informed the stations that they had aired ads targeted by the FTC as false and deceptive.
The ads that prompted the letters were for weight-loss products, health care products, credit repair services, and advance fee credit cards. All of the ads were challenged in law enforcement actions taken by the FTC, as part of its Hispanic Initiative. The letters are designed to help the stations identify and reject ads in the future that contain facially false claims and inform the stations about FTC reference guides in English and Spanish to help spot false claims in ads.
The Hispanic Outreach Initiative
The Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Initiative, formally introduced in April 2004, aims to detect, stop, and prevent consumer fraud against Hispanics. Since the launch of the Initiative, the FTC has announced 34 cases involving Spanish-language frauds. In addition to a national Hispanic workshop held in May 2004 and a series of follow-up regional workshops throughout the country, the FTC has translated more than 100 publications into Spanish and posted them on the FTC’s Spanish-language Web site: www.ftc.gov/espanol. The Web site was accessed approximately 900,000 times last year, an increase of 150 percent over 2004.
NOTE: The Commission files 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 has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaints 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, DC 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 in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), 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
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2237 or 202-326-2842
James Golder or Eliseo Padilla,
FTCs Southwest Region
(Mortgages Para Hispanos)