Canadian Operation Targeted American Consumers
At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has stopped a Canadian telemarketer that targeted consumers throughout the U.S., falsely claiming it could reduce their credit card interest rates.
According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the defendants have sold credit card interest rate reduction services since December 2005, claiming affiliation with consumers’ credit card companies. The complaint alleges that the defendants promise to effect credit card rates between 4.75 percent and 9 percent, thus saving consumers at least $2,500, and that if consumers do not save that amount their money will be refunded. The complaint also alleges that the defendants engaged in Caller ID spoofing, causing consumers’ caller identification services to display telephone numbers that do not belong to the defendants, but rather to innocent victims whose telephone numbers are misappropriated.
For $675 plus $20 for shipping and handling, the complaint alleges, the defendants send consumers promotional materials with more promises to substantially reduce their interest rates, and a “financial profile form” for consumers to complete and mail back. The form asks consumers to list the current balance, credit limit, interest rate, and suggested minimum payment for each of their credit card and other debts, as well as their social security number and other personal information.
After receiving the completed form, the defendants initiate three-way telephone calls with consumers and their credit card companies and ask the companies to lower the consumers’ credit card interest rates. The requests typically are denied, and that is often the extent of the defendants’ services. The complaint also alleges that the defendants do not honor their policy of giving refunds to consumers who do not experience the promised substantial savings.
The FTC charged the defendants with violating Section 5 of the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by falsely representing that they are affiliated with consumers’ credit card companies, that consumers’ interest rates are likely to be reduced to rates between 4.75 percent and 9 percent, that consumers will save at least $2,500 in credit card interest charges, and that defendants will provide a refund to consumers who do not save at least $2,500 in credit card interest charges. The agency also charged them with violating the TSR by not sending to consumers’ caller identification services the telephone number, the defendant’s name, or the name of the defendant’s telemarketer.
On January 29, 2007, a federal judge issued an ex parte temporary restraining order prohibiting further violations by, and freezing the assets of, defendants Select Personnel Management Inc., based in Ontario, Canada, and doing business as Select Management Solutions, and its director, James Stewart. The Commission approved the filing of the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a 5-0 vote. Search warrants have been issued in Canada.
The FTC’s case was brought with major assistance from the Barrie Police Service Fraud Unit and the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Section. Additional assistance was provided by the Toronto Strategic Partnership, which includes the FTC, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Canada’s Competition Bureau, the Toronto Police Service Fraud Squad - Telemarketing Section, the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Section, the Ontario Ministry of Government Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading. The FTC also received valuable assistance from the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.
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 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 on 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 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 available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Office of Public Affairs
William J. Hodor,
FTC’s Midwest Region
(FTC File No. 062-3215)