The Federal Trade Commission has charged a telemarketing operation and its owners with making millions of illegal, unsolicited calls about educational programs to consumers who submitted their contact information to websites promising help with job searches, public benefits, and other unrelated programs.
According to the FTC’s complaint seeking civil penalties, corporate defendants Day Pacer, LLC and Edutrek, L.L.C., and individual defendants Raymond Fitzgerald, Ian Fitzgerald, and David Cumming, obtain consumers’ phone numbers from websites that claim to help consumers apply for jobs, health insurance, unemployment benefits, Medicaid coverage, or other forms of assistance. Instead of offering these services, the defendants and their affiliates call consumers to market vocational or post-secondary education programs, according to the FTC.
“Telemarketers have a duty to ensure that they are not placing calls to people on the National Do-Not-Call Registry,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, “And they cannot rely on affiliate websites that use fine print and other deceptive tactics to lure consumers.”
The job and benefits websites allegedly use different tactics, like small print, to hide their telemarketing purpose. For example, in the exhibit below, the web page states, “Jobs In Your Area” and “Thousands of Government Jobs In Your Area Are Looking to Hire Immediately,” and includes the misleading seals of several federal government agencies. At the bottom of the page is a block of small text that is illegible without substantial magnification. It states that clicking the “submit” button to request information about government jobs provides “consent” to receive telemarketing calls about various subjects unrelated to obtaining a government job.
Similarly, the complaint alleges that the defendants have purchased leads from “FindFamilyResources.com,” a website offering to provide information about Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), welfare benefits, and unemployment insurance. The exhibit below shows a landing page that tells consumers they may “Learn More About Benefits Assistance” by submitting contact information in the boxes provided onscreen. The “yes” or “no” checkbox asking for consent to receive telemarketing calls is placed directly under an unrelated question about residency and age.
The defendants are charged with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by initiating over five million unsolicited outbound telemarketing calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry since 2013, and by providing substantial assistance to other telemarketers who placed calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on March 29, 2019, after being referred back to the FTC by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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.
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