The Federal Trade Commission today announced its second major law enforcement effort this year targeting telemarketers who violated the Do Not Call Rule and other laws by making hundreds of thousands or even millions of pre-recorded robocalls to consumers. The cases announced today target three groups that allegedly made robocalls to sell worthless credit-card interest-rate reduction programs for hefty up-front fees of as much as $1,495. At the FTC’s request, in each case, the court has issued an order temporarily halting the robocalls pending trial.
“The FTC has heard the public outcry against robocalls and has taken swift action to stop them. During these difficult economic times, the last thing anyone needs is to be bombarded by robocalls pitching worthless interest-rate reduction programs,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “The lawsuits announced today are not the first, nor will they be the last, that the agency brings to protect consumers from intrusive, illegal, and deceptive telemarketing robocalls.”
The three complaints announced today follow two filed in May that led to court orders stopping other telemarketers from using robocalls with deceptive claims about extended auto warranties. Since September 1, 2009, virtually all robocalls have been illegal, unless the recipients have provided written authorization to receive the pre-recorded calls (see press release at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/08/robocalls.shtm).
The Commission today also issued a new publication, the National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for Fiscal Year 2009, which contains information about the Registry, along with a breakdown of consumer complaints about companies violating the Do Not Call rules. According to the Data Book, there are more than 191 million numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.
According to the three FTC complaints, Economic Relief Technologies, LLC, Dynamic Financial Group (U.S.A.) Inc., and JPM Accelerated Services (JPM) and related defendants made illegal pre-recorded robocalls to consumers, using names like “card services,” “credit card services” or “account services.” The robocalls allegedly claimed the defendants’ services could lower the interest rate on consumers’ credit cards. In each case, consumers who pressed 1 after hearing the automated call were transferred to live telemarketers who allegedly misrepresented that consumers could dramatically lower the rates on their credit card. The telemarketers also said consumers would save thousands of dollars in a short period of time by lowering their interest rates and would be able to pay off their debts faster – for an up-front fee ranging from $495 to $1,495. The defendants then falsely stated that if consumers did not save a “guaranteed” amount – typically $2,500 or more – they could get a full refund of the up-front fee. However, after securing the fee, the defendants allegedly did not negotiate lower rates on behalf of consumers and provided few refunds to those who were dissatisfied with the service.
The Economic Relief Technologies defendants also allegedly operated a related scam: using names like “Auto Protection Center” and “Warranty Services,” they tricked consumers into believing they were affiliated with their vehicle manufacturer or dealership, and falsely stated that the consumers’ vehicles’ warranties were about to expire. The scheme is similar to several stopped by a court order at the FTC’s request earlier this year (see press release at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/05/robocalls.shtm).
The lawsuits allege the defendants broke the law by making illegal robocalls to consumers, and that their deceptive sales pitches violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. Additional charges include: 1) calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry; 2) calling consumers who had previously asked not to be called; 3) failing to transmit their caller ID information, as required; 4) “spoofing” or masking their caller ID information; 5) failing to promptly identify themselves, the purpose of their call, and/or the nature of the goods or services they were selling; 6) improperly abandoning calls; and 7) failing to make required disclosures in their robocalls.
To help consumers and businesses understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to pre-recorded telemarketing calls, the FTC issued two new alerts. “New Rules for Robocalls” and “Reining in Robocalls,” found at http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt162.shtm and http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/alerts/alt161.shtm.
The case against Economic Relief Technologies was filed on November 30, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, against: 1) Economic Relief Technologies, LLC; 2) Saferide Warranty LLC; 3) VP Marketing, LLC; and 4) Jason James Eyer, Kara Singleton Adams, and James A. Shoenholz.
The case against Dynamic Financial Group was filed on November 30, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, against: 1) 2145183 Ontario, Inc., also doing business as (d/b/a) Dynamic Financial Resolutions Inc.; 2) The Dynamic Financial Group (U.S.A.) Inc.; 3) R&H Marketing Concepts, Inc., also d/b/a EZ Financial Solutions; 4) Alpha Financial Debt Group Inc.; 5) America Freedom Advisors Inc.; 6) Thriller Marketing, LLC, also d/b/a Easy Financial Solutions; and 7) Joseph G. Rogister, Sean Rogister, Philip N. Constantinidis, Michael Falcone, Frank Porporino Jr., Christopher M. Hayden, Dwayne J. Martins, and John L. Franks Jr.
The case against JPM Accelerated Services was filed on November 30, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, against: 1) JPM Accelerated Services Inc.; 2) IXE Accelerated Financial Centers LLC; 3) IXE Accelerated Service Centers Inc.; 4) MGA Accelerated Services Inc.; 5) World Class Savings Inc.; 6) Accelerated Savings Inc.; 7) B&C Financial Group Inc.; and 8) Jeanie B. Robertson, Brooke Robertson, Ivan X. Estrella, Jaime M. Hawley, Kimberly Nelson, Paige Dent, Alexander J. Dent, Micha S. Romano, and Ashley M. Westbrook.
The Commission vote authorizing each of the three complaints was 4-0.
The 2009 National Do Not Call Registry Data Book
The FTC today also issued the National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for Fiscal Year 2009, which can be found on the FTC Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/12/091208dncadatabook.pdf. A first-of-its-kind publication, the Data Book contains a wealth of information about the Registry for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, including:
The Do Not Call Registry Data Book also reveals trends in complaint data. For example, in early May 2009, the Commission filed two related complaints against defendants that used millions of pre-recorded telemarketing calls to pitch consumers supposed “extended warranties” for their vehicles. The FTC alleged that the companies used random, pre-recorded phone calls to deceive consumers into thinking that their vehicle’s warranty was about to expire. While the number of complaints filed with the FTC about such pre-recorded calls had increased consistently each month from December 2008 to April 2009, peaking at 79,347, the number decreased each month after April, reaching a low of 49,804 in August 2009.
Law Enforcement Coordination
Law enforcement organizations at the international, federal, state, and local levels provided valuable investigative assistance in bringing these actions. The FTC would like to thank the following for their help: The U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the Attorneys General of Florida, Maine, Missouri, Washington State, and West Virginia; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs; the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs; the Tennessee Regulatory Authority; the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection; the State of New York, Executive Department, Consumer Protection Board; the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission; and the Toronto Strategic Partnership, which includes as member agencies the Competition Bureau Canada, the Toronto Police Service Fraud Squad – Mass Marketing Section, the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Section, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading. Valuable assistance also was provided by the Better Business Bureaus of Metro Atlanta, Athens, and Northeast Georgia; Central, Northern & Western Arizona; San Diego; Metropolitan New York; and Central Florida.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has or is being violated, and it appears to the FTC that a proceeding is in the public interest. A complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law.
Copies of the Commission’s complaints 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 Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,700 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
Valerie M. Verduce,
FTC Southeast Region, Atlanta
404-656-1355 (Economic Relief Technologies)
Steven Baker and Guy G. Ward,
FTC Midwest Region, Chicago
312-960-5634 (JPM Accelerated Services)
Steven Baker and Marissa Reich,
FTC Midwest Region, Chicago
312-960-5634 (Dynamic Financial)