The Federal Trade Commission today announced its latest law enforcement actions against scammers targeting Hispanics with their unlawful business practices. The cases, part of the FTC’s Hispanic Initiative started two years ago, are against a bogus work-at-home craft assembly scheme, the sellers of a supposed cancer cure-all, and a mortgage broker who offered his Spanish-speaking customers one set of terms in Spanish verbally and another set of terms in documents written entirely in English. The FTC also announced new consumer education materials, and outreach partnerships with schools in New York City, as well as the results of a Hispanic Multi-Media Surf conducted by the FTC and 60 partners in the U.S. and Latin America. The announcements came during the New York City Hispanic Fraud Prevention Forum.
“In English, Spanish, or in any other language, scams lead to the same result – dashed hopes and empty pockets. That is why our battle against fraud aimed at Spanish-speaking consumers remains in high gear,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “These cases, and the dozens of others we have filed to date to protect Hispanic consumers, should send a simple, but direct, message to scammers: you cannot hide behind the Spanish language to avoid detection and legal action.”
Today’s workshop was sponsored by the FTC, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the Manhattan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It is the latest in a series of workshops by the FTC and the USPIS that aim to identify local problems and discuss ways to address them; facilitate open dialogue with local government, consumer groups, and members of the Hispanic community on issues affecting Hispanic consumers; and share consumer education resources to help local communities conduct outreach about fraud, how to prevent it, and where to report it. Previous workshops were held in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
Law Enforcement Actions: At the New York event, the FTC announced the following law enforcement actions, including two new complaints and a settlement in a previously announced case:
QTX: The operation advertised their work-at-home business opportunity in local and national Spanish-language newspapers and magazines, telling consumers they could make $500 a week. When consumers called, the defendants told them they would be assembling small, decorative houses made of beads and would get paid $25 cash for each completed house. Pickup service and delivery of materials would be provided by the company. To participate, consumers paid $110 up front and were told they would receive all the materials necessary to assemble the houses.
According to the FTC’s complaint, what consumers actually received for their money was enough materials to make one house, with a set of instructions that were incomprehensible and incomplete. Consumers also found out, for the first time, that they were required to complete a sample and send it in for approval before they were paid or received delivery service or any more materials. If consumers succeeded in building the sample and sent it in, the operation rejected the sample, ignored their calls, or did not send them any further assembling work. The FTC charged the defendants, Juan Matos, doing business as QTX, and Belinda Cure with misrepresenting earnings and failing to disclose that consumers must have an approved sample before they receive additional materials and delivery service. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Natural Solution: The FTC charged the sellers of Knutric, a liquid dietary supplement advertised as effective in preventing and treating several forms of cancer, with making unsubstantiated claims. According to the FTC’s complaint, the sellers advertised Knutric in Spanish-language infomercials across the country. The ads describe Knutric as a combination of 20 plants and six minerals that is effective in preventing and treating numerous serious diseases, including prostate, breast, and colon cancer, and ailments, such as diabetes, heart attacks, and arthritis. The complaint charged the ads used misleading statements, images, testimonials, and purported medical endorsements to market Knutric.
The FTC has obtained a preliminary injunction to stop Natural Solution, Inc. and its owner Isabel Mendoza from making deceptive cancer prevention and treatment claims. This case was a result of the FTC-sponsored Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Initiative Surf Day, also announced today. The complaint was filed September 25, 2006 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Mortgages Para Hispanos: A mortgage broker, who allegedly promised one set of loan terms verbally in Spanish, but had customers sign English-only closing documents with different, less favorable terms, is settling the Federal Trade Commission’s charges. The broker will pay $10,000 in consumer redress and is prohibited from misrepresenting the terms, costs, or other conditions of any mortgage loan, including the monthly payment amount, interest rate, annual percentage rate, finance charge, and/or term of repayment, or cash to be disbursed out of the loan proceeds.
The order also requires the defendants, Daniel Moises Goldberg, also known as Daniel Martinez, and his company, Mortgages Para Hispanos.com, to provide a disclosure statement and a consumer education brochure to every consumer to whom they offer a mortgage loan. Spanish-speaking consumers must receive their brochure in Spanish. The defendants must provide independent closing agents at no cost to the consumer. The order also enters a $240,000 judgment against the defendants, which is suspended based on their inability to pay. The FTC would like to thank the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Dallas Office and the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending for their assistance. The stipulated final order was filed September 14, 2006 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file in each case was 5-0.
Educational Outreach: The FTC is also announcing today a new comprehensive, bilingual guide, Read Up! How to be an Informed Consumer. The guide is designed to help Spanish speakers make well-informed decisions when it comes to establishing and using credit, buying a home or a car, or paying for a college education. The FTC is also announcing an instructional bilingual guide, Read Up and Reach Out: A Guide to Consumer Education and Outreach, which will be available soon. The guide is designed to help organizations working within Hispanic communities educate consumers about their rights and how to file a complaint, and will be distributed to nearly 1,000 community-based organizations, national Hispanic organizations, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
In addition, the FTC has established partnerships with five New York City area colleges and 150 high schools to distribute copies of the FTC publication “Getting Credit” in English and Spanish this fall semester to students and parents.
The Hispanic Outreach Initiative: The Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Initiative, formally introduced in April 2004, aims to detect, stop, and prevent consumer fraud against Hispanics. Since the launch of the Initiative, the FTC has announced 37 actions involving Spanish-language frauds against 126 businesses and individuals. In addition to a national Hispanic workshop held in May 2004 and a series of follow-up regional workshops throughout the country, the FTC has translated more than 120 publications into Spanish. In 2004, the FTC developed a Spanish-language consumer fraud awareness campaign, “OJO - Mantente alerta contra el fraude. Infórmate con la FTC” (“Be on the alert against fraud. Stay alert with the FTC”). As part of the comprehensive Ojo campaign, the FTC created a fully bilingual website dedicated to Hispanic Outreach: www.ftc.gov/ojo. In the last two years, there were nearly 1.3 million visits to the Spanish Web site and to date this year, there were more than 1.5 million visits to the Web site. During the first half of 2006, the FTC distributed more than 425,000 print publications in Spanish.
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.
NOTE: A stipulated final order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and final orders 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/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2890 (Hispanic Initiative)
Laura Schneider or Elsie Kappler,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2604 or 202-326-2466 (QTX)
Yaa Apori or Sandhya Prabhu,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3796 or 202-326-2040 (Natural Solution)
James Golder & Eli Padilla,
FTC’s Southwest Region
214-979-9350 (Mortgages Para Hispanos)
Rosario Mendez or Alvaro Puig,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3794 or 202-326-3194 (Hispanic Outreach)