A Los Angeles-based operation has been cited by the Federal Trade Commission with perpetrating a classic work-at-home scam. USS Elder Enterprises, Inc., America Vespucia Corporation, Ricardo Elder Partners, Inc., and Ricardo E. Gonzalez, doing business under a series of fictitious names and operating as a common enterprise, targeted Spanish-speaking consumers looking for well-paying jobs that do not require English skills. The FTC alleges that the defendants, through ads in various Spanish-language newspapers and magazines, offered easy product assembly work, such as key chains or jewelry, and high weekly earning potential. Interested consumers were led to believe that they could earn between $112 and $700 a week for such work. The FTC alleges that the defendants’ business practices violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
The FTC’s complaint names: USS Elder Enterprises, Inc. and America Vespucia Corporation, both doing business as Salomon Press Financial Publications, Salomon Press, Editorial Salomon, Compañía Americana, Compañías Americanas, and Escritorio Público Internacional; Ricardo Elder Partners, Inc., doing business as Escritorio Público Internacional; and Ricardo E. Gonzalez, also known as Ricardo Elder.
According to the complaint, the defendants promote their phony work-at-home business opportunities to consumers throughout the United States, specifically targeting Hispanic consumers. The ads refer consumers to telephone numbers for additional information. When consumers call these numbers, they are told that, for a fee ranging from $50 to $180, the
consumers will receive assembly product work for pay, or substantial assistance in obtaining such work, and that they could potentially earn a substantial amount of money, depending on
their ability and the products they choose. Some consumers are told that, if they are not fully satisfied with the assembly projects, the defendants will refund their money. In other cases, the defendants promise consumers that their money would be refunded after a trial period. Consumers are instructed to send their payment in cash, by money order, or by wire transfer. Occasionally, the defendants’ representatives personally collect the money from consumers’ homes.
According to the complaint, however, consumers who pay the fee do not receive the promised assembly project work or substantial assistance getting such work. Few, if any, realize the promised earnings. Instead, according to the FTC, consumers receive a booklet in Spanish that contains lists of companies to contact that allegedly offer work-at-home opportunities. These companies no longer exist; they require payment of additional fees; or they have no relationship with the defendants. When consumers complain and request a refund, their efforts are thwarted by the defendants who simply do not respond, or place conditions on receiving a refund that have not been previously disclosed to consumers.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants misrepresented:
- that consumers will obtain assembly project work for pay or substantial assistance in obtaining such work;
- that consumers are likely to earn a substantial amount of money; and
- that the defendants will provide refunds to consumers.
The FTC is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and consumer redress.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Southern Division, on August 31, 2004.
The FTC would like to thank the Better Business Bureau of the Southland, Inc. and the Los Angeles, California Department of Consumer Affairs for their valuable contributions to the FTC's investigation.
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 complaint 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 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.
(FTC File No. 032-3128)
(Civil Action No. SA CV-04-1039 AHS (ANx))
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