Fraudulent telemarketers constantly prey on consumers seeking personal credit or finance-related assistance, according to the Federal Trade Commission and 15 state and federal law enforcers, who today announced "Operation No-Credit" - a joint law enforcement campaign targeting a wide range of credit-related frauds. The FTC and other law enforcement entities filed 43 actions as part of this campaign. Operation No-Credit highlights the efforts of the FTC and other law enforcement entities to halt some of the financial frauds occurring throughout the nation. The cases in this telemarketing sweep encompass a variety of financial frauds that impact consumers' credit, including typical advance fee credit card, credit repair, pay day loan, debt adjustment, and debt negotiation schemes, as well as new credit identity scams. The FTC has filed a series of federal court complaints alleging violations of law in the following areas:
Seven separate enterprises offer consumers "major credit cards," such as a MasterCard or Visa, or a loan, for a one-time advance fee, that never produce the promised credit cards or loans.
A California firm calling itself a "debt negotiation" company promises financially strapped consumers that it could reduce their debt and restore their credit by negotiating with creditors. But the company does little other than charge exorbitant fees while consumers stop making required payments to their creditors and plunge deeper and deeper into financial ruin.
An Oregon firm calling itself a "financial finder and matching service," offers to match consumers to charitable foundations that are most likely to give cash grants - which, unlike loans, never need to be repaid - to individuals who have "genuine reasons for needing the money," regardless of credit history or collateral. But what consumers receive is a useless list of foundations and general instructions on applying for a grant.
"In these uncertain economic times, finance-related scams are especially outrageous because they prey on the most vulnerable consumers - those out of work, those with poor credit ratings, or those who need money right away for emergencies," said J. Howard Beales, III, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Working with our federal, state, and local partners, we are stopping scam artists who make false promises with no intention of delivering the goods. Our warning to these disreputable businesses is: we will track you down and stop your illegal practices."
Many of the cases highlighted today involve extensive cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. These actions include lawsuits, cease and desist orders, consent agreements, and even criminal indictments. (See attached chart.)
According to the FTC, advance-fee credit schemes continue to be among the most commonly-reported complaints in the Consumer Sentinel database that the FTC maintains and that hundreds of law enforcement agencies use. In advance-fee credit card scams, the perpetrators tell consumers that for an advance fee - sometimes several hundred dollars - they will receive an unsecured credit card. Frequently, the consumers get nothing of value. Other times they only receive a list of banks or a booklet of tips on how to obtain a credit card. In no case did the defendants issue a major credit card to a consumer.
OPERATION NO-CREDIT LAW ENFORCEMENT:
(See list of cases and contacts.)
The FTC filed its actions under Operation No-Credit against:
Jubilee Financial Services, Inc., of Downey, California; company president, John E. Gustavsen; Jabez Financial Group, Inc., and its president, Curtis Cobb.
- These defendants allegedly lured consumers with false promises that consumers would be able to eliminate all of their unsecured debt by paying off only a fraction of what the consumers actually owed. According to the FTC, the defendants told consumers that if the consumers made monthly payments to the defendants' debt negotiation program, the consumers would eliminate their debt and improve their credit rating. The defendants also told consumers to allow the defendants to handle all aspects of the debt negotiation. The FTC alleges that the defendants rarely contacted consumers' creditors, causing consumers to damage their credit ratings and accrue additional late fees and finance charges. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, on August 19, 2002. Civil Action No. CV 02-6468 ABC (Ex); FTC File No. 022 3148.)
(The FTC staff received invaluable assistance on this case from the Better Business Bureau of the Southland (Southern California) and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.)
Grant Search, Inc., of Ashland, Oregon; Steven G. Levine and Scott Stettnichs; Grant Pac, Inc., and Sunday R. Levine.
- The defendants allegedly told consumers that the defendants would match consumers with a suitable foundation "most likely to approve [their] your grant," regardless of the purpose of the grant. The defendants offered the purported grants as substitutes for traditional credit to consumers who have bad credit histories. The FTC alleges that although consumers could buy the program at two different prices, they received the same outdated list of foundations regardless of which program they purchased. Consumers learned that individuals were not eligible for the vast majority of the grants. The defendants offered a 100 percent money-back guarantee of the application fee, but when consumers requested a refund, the defendants denied the refund based on certain conditions or restrictions that the defendants did not previously disclose. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, on August 15, 2002. Civil Action No. 02-4174-CV-C-NKL; FTC File No. 022 3201.)
(The FTC staff received invaluable assistance on this case from the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., the Western Washington/Oregon Better Business Bureau, and the Oregon Department of Justice.)
Bay Area Business Council, Inc.; Bay Area Business Council Customer Service Corp.; America Leisure Card Corp., of Largo, Florida; Peter J. Porcelli, II; Christopher Tomasulo; and Bonnie A. Harris.
- The defendants purportedly offered consumers guaranteed low-interest unsecured MasterCard credit cards. According to the FTC, although consumers paid as much as $499 to receive the credit card, most consumers did not receive the promised credit cards. A few received a "temporary" or "dummy"card with the MasterCard logo, the name "Bay Area Business Council," and a non-magnetic black stripe on the back. When consumers called to activate the card, the defendants told them for the first time that they had a debit card and not a credit card. The defendants also told consumers that they had to pay an additional fee and deposit money for any purchases made on the account. The FTC alleges that the defendants told consumers a specific amount during the sales call, but charged additional amounts. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on August 13, 2002. Civil Action No. 02-C-5762; FTC File No. 022 3150.)
(The FTC staff received invaluable assistance on this case from the Sunrise Police Department.)
Brent Shivers, doing business as Credit Card Services and Destyni Enterprises, of Dallas, Texas.
- The defendants allegedly told consumers that for a $79 up-front fee, they would receive a Visa or MasterCard credit card. The FTC alleges that in many instances consumers received nothing from the company after they paid the fee. In a few instances, consumers received bank credit card applications that included additional fees or only offered secured credit cards. When consumers requested a refund, the defendants either ignored the request or informed the consumers that they must meet specific criteria that the defendants did not previously disclose. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, on August 14, 2002. Civil Action No. 3-02CV1727-G; FTC File No. 022 3168.)
1st Beneficial Credit Services LLC., doing business as First Beneficial Credit Services; First Beneficial Credit Services, Inc.; and American Capitol, of Toronto, Canada; and Viktor Golub, doing business as Platinum Express.
- The defendants' telemarketers, operating out of the Toronto area, called U.S. consumers and offered guaranteed Visa or MasterCard credit cards with substantial credit limits for a $199 advance fee. The FTC alleges that consumers never received the promised credit card. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, in Cleveland, on August 14, 2002. Civil Action No. 1:02CV1591; FTC File No. 022 3169.)
(The FTC staff received invaluable assistance on this case from the Delaware Better Business Bureau; Delaware Attorney General's Office - Consumer Protection Unit; Tennessee Regulatory Authority; Phonebusters - Ontario Provincial Police; Industry Canada; USPIS - Postal Inspectors in Albany and Buffalo; and Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services.)
Premier Financial Services International, Inc., of Coral Springs, Florida; Premier Financial Services of Tennessee, Inc., of Nashville; First Financial Debt Consolidation Inc., of Oakland Park, Florida; and Scott Jason Kaduk.
- The defendants' telemarketers told consumers that they had been pre-approved for a major credit card, Visa or MasterCard, for a one-time fee ranging from $189 to $219. The defendants told consumers that the one-time charge was for the credit card and purported benefits packages. According to the FTC, the defendants assured the consumers that if the consumers paid the required fee, they would receive a credit card. In fact, the banks had not approved the consumer's request for a credit card. Consumers had to complete an additional bank application with the bank's own credit criteria, a fact not disclosed to consumers before the defendants debited the consumers' bank accounts.
(Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, on August 13, 2002. Civil Action No. 02-CIV-61134 Moore; FTC File No. 022 3151.)
(The FTC staff received invaluable assistance on this case from the Coral Springs, Florida Police Department, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Tampa and Nashville.)
Westcal Equipment, Inc., doing business as Pioneer First; PF Member Services., Inc., of Buffdale, Utah; Robert Barr, Candace Rodriguez, Charles Schmidt, and Wayne Wrath.
- The defendants advertised their Pioneer First Platinum credit card in exchange for an advance fee of $189. The ads guaranteed consumers a Pioneer First Platinum card, with a $5000 credit limit and zero percent interest for 12 months, as long as the applicant is 18 years old, a legal U.S. resident, and has a checking account. The advertisements included the logo of a major credit card. In fact, the FTC alleges, the Pioneer First credit card is not a major credit card but a catalog card good only for purchasing merchandise through Pioneer First. The FTC alleges that the defendants debited consumers' checking accounts without authorization. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, at Seattle, on August 19, 2002. Civil Action No. CO2-1793L; FTC File No. 022 3172.)
(The State of Washington is a co-plaintiff in this matter. The FTC staff and the State of Washington received invaluable assistance on this case from the Utah State Bureau of Investigations; the Utah Department of Commerce, Consumer Protection Division; the Nevada Office of the Attorney General; and the Las Vegas Office of the FBI.)
Star Credit Services Inc. and James Shovak, of Holbrook, New York.
- The defendants guaranteed that the consumers who paid an advance fee would always obtain a loan for a desired amount regardless of past credit history, and further guaranteed refunds to any consumer who did not get a loan. Consumers typically did not receive the loans the defendants promised. Consumers also discovered, after they paid the advance fee, that they were required to submit a rejection letter from each and every lender before the defendants would issue refunds. According to the FTC, even those consumers who fulfilled the requirements to receive a refund were unsuccessful. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, in Central Islip, NY, on August 14, 2002. Civil Action No. CV-02-4500; FTC File No. 022 3202.)
Tyme Lock 2000, Inc., of Nevada, doing business as United Family Services and USA Membership Services; Total Resources, Inc.; Ruth R. Adams, and Stella L. Aguilar.
- The defendants make unsolicited phone calls to consumers in some instances, telling them that for a fee of approximately $189, they will receive a major credit card, and either a personal computer, cell phone, or camera. Consumers paid by having the defendants debit their checking accounts. The FTC alleges that instead of receiving a credit card or other promised items, consumers received a packet of materials which included applications to banks for credit cards, and offers for computers or cell phones which required the consumers to contract with an internet service provider or a telephone company. (Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, on August 19, 2002; Civil Action No. CV-S-02-1078-JCM-RJJ; FTC File No. 022 3032.)
The FTC alleges that the defendants in all nine of the cases listed above engaged in deceptive practices in violation of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). In each case, the FTC is seeking permanent orders prohibiting the defendants from engaging in similarly deceptive finance-related schemes, and is asking the courts to freeze the defendants' assets. Where appropriate, the FTC is also seeking the appointment a receiver.
The FTC also is launching an extensive consumer education campaign, including a Spanish language component, to help consumers avoid credit-related fraud. The FTC has several consumer publications: Advance-Fee Loan Scams Campaign, Knee Deep in Debt, Credit Repair: Getting Back in the Black Campaign; and Payday Loans. They are available on the Internet at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline . Publications can also be obtained in Spanish at www.ftc.gov/spanish
The Commission votes to authorize the staff to file the complaints in the appropriate federal district court were 5-0
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, 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.
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