Defendants Ordered to Pay $11.8 Million for Consumer Redress, Barred from Violating the TSR; Original Complaint Brought as Part of FTCs Dialing for Deception Law Enforcement Sweep
The Federal Trade Commission today announced a final court order entered against six major New York- and New Jersey-based telemarketing companies and their principal resolving charges that the defendants defrauded thousands of consumers nationwide through pitches for supposedly pre-approved advance-fee credit cards. Most consumers, who paid between $219.99 and $289 up-front for a Visa or Mastercard typically got nothing for their money – which had been almost immediately debited from their bank accounts – and found that it was virtually impossible to take the companies up on their supposed “money-back” refund. In issuing the final judgment, the court barred the defendants from making similar misrepresentations, severely limited the individual defendant’s ability to engage in any marketing or sales concerning credit-related products, and ordered all defendants to pay almost $11.8 million for use as consumer redress.
On March 31, 2004, the court granted the Commission’s motion for summary judgment on liability and damages, and directed entry of the final judgment against the following defendants: 1) Credit Enhancement Services, LLC; 2) Liberty Benefits, LLC; 3) Broadway Management, LLC; 4) Check Fee, LLC, a/k/a Titanium Blue; 5) Port of Call Centers, LLC; 6) Port of Call Centers NY, LLC; and 7) Frederick J. Dick, Jr., individually and as the sole member of the six limited liability companies. The complaint against these defendants originally was brought as a part of the FTC’s “Dialing for Deception” law enforcement initiative and announced on April 15, 2002, as part of an 11-complaint sweep targeting “in-bound” telemarketing fraud.
The Commission’s Complaint
The Commission’s complaint charged the Credit Enhancement, et al. defendants with using postcard mailers and in-bound telemarketing to pitch advance-fee credit cards to consumers for a one-time fee of between $219.99 and $289. According to the FTC, some consumers who made the payments for their “pre-approved” and “unsecured” card got nothing, while others simply received an information package welcoming them to a discount buying card service, along with applications for major credit cards. To apply for these cards, however, consumers were required to pay an extra fee. Additional promises the defendants made included the alleged misrepresentations that the cards had no annual fee and that the interest rate would never increase.
The complaint also alleged that the defendants never told consumers that they would have to meet a lender’s minimum credit-granting criteria before receiving a card. Consumers who did eventually receive credit card packages from banks typically received packages with additional fees, higher interest rates, and low credit limits. Finally, the complaint charged the defendants with misrepresenting their refund policy. Based on these allegations, the Commission charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the TSR between January 2000 and January 2002.
Terms of the Final Judgment
The summary final judgment announced today resolves the Commission’s charges against all named company defendants and the individual defendant in this matter. It provides for both injunctive and monetary relief as deemed appropriate by the court. First, defendant Dick, acting alone or in any other manner, is permanently barred from engaging in any activities related to the marketing or sale of advance-fee credit cards or any other credit-related good or service, or assisting anyone else to do so.
Further, all named defendants are permanently barred from making several specific misrepresentations in the future, in connection with any marketing or sales activities, including: 1) that after paying the defendants a fee, consumers will, or are highly likely to, receive an unsecured major credit card, such as a Visa or Mastercard; and 2) that the defendants will unconditionally refund the purchase price if a consumer seeks a refund within 30 days of receiving the defendants’ information package. In addition, the judgment bars the defendants from violating the TSR in the future by making misrepresentations as alleged in the complaint.
The judgment contains specific terms regarding record-keeping on the part of the defendants, requiring them to distribute the order to selected parties for five years from the date it is entered, requiring them to acknowledge receipt of the order, and allowing for Commission monitoring to ensure their compliance with its terms.
Finally, the judgment requires the defendants to pay $11,777,881.41 to the Commission for use as monetary relief/consumer redress and to help pay for the administrative costs associated with bringing the case to court.
The FTC would like to thank the following organizations for their invaluable assistance in prosecuting this matter and securing the final judgment announced today: 1) the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (Central Islip Division); 2) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Long Island, New York); 3) the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (Hicksville, New York); 4) the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Office of Consumer Protection; 5) the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General; 6) the Missouri Office of the Attorney General; and 7) the Better Business Bureaus serving New Jersey and Long Island, New York.
Copies of the final judgment, findings of fact, and conclusions of law 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, 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.
(FTC File No. 022-3049, Civ. No. CV-02-2134 (JS) (MLO))
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