Feds Shut Down Florida-Based Debt-Relief Robocall Scammers

Image courtesy of Jenn and Tony Bot

A federal court has issued a restraining order against a network of Florida-based robocallers who bilked more than $15.6 million from victims through the use of auto-dialed, prerecorded scam calls pitching bogus credit card rate reduction under the generic guise “Bank Card Services” or “Credit Assistance Program.”

According to the complaint [PDF] filed in a federal court in Orlando, since at least Jan. 2013, the defendants — using a variety of names, like Life Management Services of Orange County, Loyal Financial & Credit Services, IVD Recovery, KWP Services of Florida, and at least eight others — allegedly defrauded financially distressed consumers by selling them two types of phony debt relief services: credit-card interest-rate-reduction services and credit-card debt-elimination services.

Victims were given false assurances that their credit card interest rates would be substantially lowered, or that they would be able to access some mysterious government fund in order to pay off their debt.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the robocallers would then demand up-front payments for their services, a violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The defendants would sometimes make minimal efforts to reduce customers’ interest rates — asking their credit card companies for lower rates, or taking out new, lower-interest cards — but the FTC says these tactics never resulted in long-term lower interest rates or significant savings.

As for the debt-elimination scheme run by the defendants, the FTC says it was “simple, persuasive, and wholly deceptive.”

“Defendants tell consumers about an alleged government ‘fund’ that contains money that consumers can use to pay off their credit-card debt within 18 months,” explains the complaint. “Defendants claim that the fund is paid for by credit-card companies who were found to be charging excessive interest rates. These claims are false because no such fund exists.”

For access to this nonexistent fund, victims paid fees ranging from $2,500 to $20,000.

In bringing the case, the agencies charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The FTC and Florida AG’s Office are seeking to permanently stop the conduct and secure money for consumer refunds. A complete list of the defendants can be found in the agencies’ complaint.

“Most consumers who enroll in Defendants’ program suffer significant harm in the form of reduced creditworthiness, higher interest rates on their existing credit-card debt, and higher overall credit-card debt due to the accrual of late fees and interest charges,” alleges the FTC, which convinced the court to grant a temporary restraining order halting the defendants’ operations.

The defendants have been charged with violations of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“This is the latest effort by the FTC and our international, state, and federal law enforcement partners to stop illegal robocalling operations that harass consumers day and night with unwanted calls,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The best way you can avoid being a victim of robocall scams is to avoid robocalls altogether. The End Robocalls campaign from our colleagues at Consumers Union has advice on how to block these unwanted calls and how to tell telecom execs that they should provide robo-blocking tools to customers.