The marketers of a “Rapid Debt Reduction” program who promised to lower interest rates on credit cards – for an up-front fee of up to $899 – have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers. Under a court order settling the FTC’s case, the pitchmen have been banned from marketing debt-relief services and have agreed to pay $1.5 million that will be used to refund defrauded consumers.
Filed as part of the “Operation Short Charge” law enforcement sweep, the FTC’s complaint alleged that Mutual Consolidated Savings (MCS) and its affiliates and principals used cold calls, pre-recorded “robocalls,” and the Internet to push a phony “Rapid Debt Reduction” program to consumers in the United States and Canada. The defendants convinced consumers to pay $690 to $899 for the program, claiming they would reduce credit card interest rates, save consumers thousands of dollars, and enable them to pay off their debt three to five times faster than they could under their current payment schedule. The FTC also alleged that the defendants failed to honor their money-back guarantee.
In addition, according to the FTC, the MCS defendants called consumers whose telephone numbers were on the Do Not Call Registry, failed to honor consumers’ requests that they not be called again, transmitted fake Caller ID information, failed to identify themselves during telephone pitches, and made illegal robocalls.
The order settling the FTC’s charges bans the defendants from working in the debt relief industry and prohibits them from misleading consumers or helping anyone else mislead consumers about any material facts regarding goods or services they are selling. In addition, they must comply with the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including not calling consumers on the Do Not Call Registry.
The settlement order also requires the defendants to pay approximately $1.5 million – all of their available assets – that will be distributed to injured customers in the United States and Canada. If they misrepresented their financial condition, the defendants will have to pay the full amount of the alleged consumer injury, $22.5 million.
The FTC vote approving the complaint and proposed settlement order was 5-0. The settlement order was filed on June 14, 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma and signed by the judge on July 19, 2010. It settles the FTC’s charges against MCS Programs, LLC; United Savings Center, Inc.; and USC Programs, LLC; and their principals, Paul Morris Thompson and Miranda Lynn Cavender.
Law Enforcement Coordination
In investigating and bringing its case against Mutual Consolidated Savings, the FTC received assistance from the Canadian Competition Bureau. Both the Competition Bureau and the FTC are members of the Vancouver Strategic Alliance, a law enforcement task force located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In carrying out the terms of the court order in Mutual Consolidated Savings, the FTC received assistance from the Police Department of Tacoma, Washington.
NOTE: Stipulated final orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Stipulated orders have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and final order are available from the FTC’s website 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 and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click: http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.