Court Halts Alleged Fake Debt Collector Calls from India,

 

In Your Debt?

In Your Debt?
A fake debt collector who allegedly bullied people into paying debts they didn’t owe has been stopped at the FTC’s request. According to the FTC, American Credit Crunchers, LLC, Ebeeze, LLC, and owner Varang K. Thaker misused the personal information of people looking online for payday loans. The defendants used callers from India who pretended to be law enforcement or federal investigators to falsely threaten lawsuits, arrest, or dismissal from their job if they didn’t make a payment on a delinquent payday loan. The people didn’t owe the defendants a thing, the FTC says. For more on handling callers claiming to be debt collectors, read Who’s Calling? That Debt Collector Could Be a Fake.

Robo, Schmobo: Stop These Calls

Robo, Schmobo
The FTC is taking action to stop two massive robocalling operations that allegedly enabled telemarketers to make hundreds of millions of illegal prerecorded calls to people across the country, including many whose numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry. The agency alleges that the defendants offered “self-service” voice broadcasting to make it easy for telemarketers to deliver tens of millions of robocalls for mere pennies per call. Marketers simply had to upload a prerecorded message — pitching debt relief services, carpet cleaning, auto warranties, and satellite dish broadcasting, for example — and a list of telephone numbers at the defendants’ web sites for the calls to be placed. Read Robocalls are Illegal: Scammers Use False Caller IDs to Hide for more.

Federal Job Fiction

Federal Job Fiction
The FTC and the state of Arizona have stopped a business that allegedly ran an illegal government job scheme. According to the complaint, Government Careers Inc. advertised supposed postal, border patrol, and administrative support jobs on Careerbuilder.com and Yahoo! Hot Jobs among other websites, and in local newspapers. The defendants told people that for $119, they would get study materials to help them pass an exam to get a federal job. But in many cases, the jobs didn’t require exams or didn’t exist, the FTC says. The defendants allegedly also charged people $965 for career counseling services, including resume editing and exam preparation, despite saying the ‘clients’ wouldn’t have to pay until they got a job.

Seeing Through Claims

Seeing Through the Claims
Five companies have settled FTC charges that the energy-efficiency and cost-savings marketing claims they made about their replacement windows were deceptive. According to the settlement, the companies couldn’t back up their claims, which in some cases said people could cut their energy bills in half just by replacing their current windows with the windows advertised. But the potential savings from new windows depend on several factors, including the climate, the kind of windows you’re replacing, and how the new windows are installed. For more on replacing your home’s windows, and information that could affect your energy savings, check out Shopping for New Windows.

Putting Payday Borrowers in a Bind

Putting Payday Borrowers in a Bind
The FTC has expanded its case against an allegedly deceptive payday lender. According to the FTC, South Dakota-based Payday Financial, LLC, is trying to manipulate the legal system by forcing borrowers who’ve fallen behind on their payments to appear before the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court in South Dakota, regardless of where they live, in an attempt to get a tribal court order to garnish their wages. But the tribal court doesn’t have jurisdiction. The agency’s original complaint alleged that the defendants illegally tried to garnish employees’ wages without court orders. For more on payday loans, read Payday Loans Equal Very Costly Cash.

Competition Promotes Quality Care

Competition Promotes Quality Care
To resolve FTC charges that acquiring its rival Liberty Dialysis would harm renal care patients in local markets across the country, Fresenius Medical Care will sell 60 outpatient dialysis clinics in 43 cities under a proposed settlement. Patients suffering from end stage renal disease use outpatient dialysis treatments to remove toxins and excess fluid from their blood, and rely on nearby clinics for these services. According to the FTC, without these divestitures, renal care patients would likely face higher prices or reductions in quality of care in the 43 cities as a result of the merger.

“The fact that almost four million consumers fell prey to the lure of these ‘free trial’ offers is a stark reminder that ‘free’ offers can come at a huge price.”

— David Vladeck, Director, Bureau of Consumer Protection

ID Theft is Top Complaint Category

For the 12th year in a row, identity theft is at the top of the FTC’s annual list of consumer complaints. Of more than 1.8 million complaints filed with the FTC in 2011, 15 percent were ID theft complaints; nearly a quarter of these were related to tax- or wage- fraud. Complaints about debt collectors were second to identity theft.

Stamping Out Fraud

At the request of the FTC, a U.S. district court has issued a contempt ruling against promoters of credit repair, debt relief, and food stamp services who violated a 2010 settlement. The court, which ordered refunds, said the defendants promoted a food stamp application guide that falsely promised to show how “almost everybody” can legally get food stamps for free.

More Refunds

Bank of America subsidiary BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP — formerly known as Countrywide — has agreed to settle FTC charges that it illegally assessed more than $36 million worth of fees against struggling homeowners in violation of an earlier settlement. BAC Home Loans has already reversed or refunded $28 million in improper fees. The new settlement requires them to reverse or refund the remaining $8 million.

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http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/02/voiceblaze.shtm

FTC Takes Action to Stop Massive Robocalling Operations

Defendants Allegedly Made Hundreds of Millions of Illegal Prerecorded Calls to Numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry

 

 

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/02/acc.shtm

For Release: 02/21/2012
Court Halts Alleged Fake Debt Collector Calls from India, Grants FTC Request to Stop Defendants Who Often Posed as Law Enforcement

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has halted an operation that the FTC alleges collected phantom payday loan “debts” that consumers did not owe. Consumers received millions of collection calls from India, and that since January 2010 the operation took in more than $5 million from victims, according to the FTC.

In tough economic times, many consumers turn to high-interest, short-term payday loans between paychecks. The FTC alleges that information submitted by consumers who applied online for these loans found its way into the hands of the defendants.

Often pretending to be law enforcement or other government authorities, the callers working with the defendants would falsely threaten to immediately arrest and jail consumers if they did not agree to make a payment on a delinquent payday loan, the FTC’s court papers stated. Claiming to be law enforcement, such as a local police department, the “Federal Department of Crime and Prevention,” or simply a “federal investigator,” the callers typically demanded more than $300, and sometimes as much as $2,000. At other times, the callers said they were filing a large lawsuit against the consumer because of the delinquent payday loan or would have the consumer fired from his or her job, according to the FTC.

But the consumers did not owe money to defendants – either the payday loan debts did not exist or the defendants had no authority to collect them because they are owed to someone else, according to the FTC. The court order stops the illegal conduct and freezes the operation’s assets while the FTC moves forward with the case.

“This is a brazen operation based on pure fraud, and the FTC is committed to shutting it
down,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not be pressured into paying debt they don’t remember owing. Legitimate debt collectors must provide consumers with both written information about the debt, and instructions for protecting themselves if they don’t think they owe the debt.”

The case of Mark Merola is typical of consumers the defendants targeted. A caller with an Indian accent reached his wife at home and told her Merola would be arrested and immediately imprisoned if he did not pay what he owed on a payday loan. The caller later said he knew where Merola worked and threatened to send police there to arrest him. Despite not being delinquent on any loan and not owing money to the caller, Merola was afraid of the threatened arrest, so he paid $523.87 to the defendants.

As part of its continuing crackdown on scams that target consumers in financial distress, the FTC charged Villa Park, California-based American Credit Crunchers, LLC, an affiliated company called Ebeeze, LLC, and the companies’ owner, Varang K. Thaker, with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Over the last two years, consumers have filed more than 4,000 complaints with the FTC and state attorneys general about fraudulent debt collection calls.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Thaker obtained information – often including Social Security or bank account numbers – about consumers who had inquired about, applied for, or obtained online payday loans. Thaker worked with telephone callers in India who called consumers using deceptive statements and threats to convince them to pay debts that were not owed or that he was not authorized to collect, the FTC alleged.

Thaker also profited handsomely from this scheme, according to documents filed with the court. He has withdrawn tens of thousands of dollars from the American Credit Crunchers and Ebeeze bank accounts, the FTC alleged.

According to the complaint, Thaker and his companies:

* falsely told consumers they were delinquent on a loan, they must pay it, and the defendants had the authority to collect it.
* falsely claimed to be law enforcement authorities or attorneys.
* made false threats against consumers who refused to pay the alleged debts, including threats of arrest or imprisonment.
* harassed and threatened consumers so that they often paid the alleged debts out of fear of being arrested or sued.

For more information about how to handle callers who claim to be debt collectors, see Who’s Calling? That Debt Collector Could Be a Fake.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The FTC filed the complaint and request for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division on February 13, 2012. The next day, the court granted the FTC’s request.

The FTC would like to thank the following agencies for their help in this case: the Colorado Department of Law; West Virginia Attorney General; Kentucky Attorney General; Idaho Department of Finance; Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions; and County of Santa Clara – Office of the District Attorney.

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 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 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Betsy Lordan
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-3707
STAFF CONTACT:
Elizabeth Scott
FTC Midwest Region
312-960-5609

(FTC File No. 1023191)
(American Credit Crunchers NR)

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