The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint in federal district court in Orlando to halt an alleged credit card interest-rate reduction scam that, the FTC alleges, deceived numerous consumers struggling with credit card debt.
The Commission alleges that the individuals charged in this case, who previously worked for a nearly identical telemarketing operation shut down by court order in 2016 at the request of the FTC, set up a new operation selling similar bogus credit-card interest-rate-reduction services within weeks of the court order shuttering the earlier operation.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Higher Goals Marketing LLC, Sunshine Freedom Services LLC, Brandun L. Anderson, Lea A. Brownell, Melissa M. Deese, Gerald D. Starr, Jr., and Travis L. Teel, have engaged in a telemarketing scheme that has deceived financially distressed consumers nationwide by pitching bogus credit-card interest-rate-reduction services.
These telemarketers allegedly received substantial help in developing and carrying out the scheme from defendant Wayne T. Norris, who previously worked for the defendants in two other FTC cases involving the telemarketing of deceptive debt-relief services, 2016’s FTC v. Life Management Services of Orange County, LLC and 2012’s FTC v. Ambrosia Web Design, LLC.
In fact, the complaint alleges that Norris began working with Anderson to set up the Higher Goals Marketing scheme weeks after the court entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the Life Management Services case. In this case, Norris is charged with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by helping the other defendants organize the telemarketing infrastructure they used to bombard consumers with illegal robocalls, putting a team of managers together to oversee the entire robocall operation, and helping to set up a shell company to collect illegal up-front fees from consumers.
The complaint alleges that the other defendants used illegal robocalls to contact consumers and pitch their fake debt-relief services. They guaranteed that consumers would substantially and permanently lower their credit card interest rates, and would save thousands of dollars in interest payments. In reality, the complaint alleges, the scheme was rarely, if ever, able to obtain the promised results. In some instances, the defendants would obtain new credit cards for consumers with low introductory teaser rates – but the promotional rates on these cards were only temporary and the defendants failed to disclose that consumers would need to pay a fee to transfer their existing credit-card balances to the new cards.
The defendants (other than Norris) allegedly violated both the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting that they could reduce credit card interest rates and save consumers money, as well as by failing to disclose that consumers could wind up paying a range of additional bank fees totaling one to three percent of their entire credit card debt. They are charged with additional TSR violations for collecting illegal up-front fees, calling consumers whose numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry, making illegal robocalls, and failing to pay required fees to access the Do Not Call Registry.
The FTC is seeking a TRO to stop the defendants’ allegedly illegal conduct. In seeking the TRO, the Commission is asking the court to stop the defendants’ alleged violations of the FTC Act and TSR pending resolution of the case. The Commission also is seeking the appointment of a receiver to take control of the corporate defendants, an asset freeze to preserve funds for potential consumer redress, as well as limited, expedited discovery.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint seeking a temporary restraining order was 2-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division. A complete list of the defendants in this case can be found in the Commission’s complaint. The FTC appreciates the help of Florida’s Office of the Attorney General, Department of Legal Affairs, Consumer Protection Division, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for their help in this case.
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 case will be decided by the court.
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