First Data will pay $40 million in FTC deal over consumer scams

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First Data Merchant Services LLC and a former executive agreed to pay more than $40 million to settle a claim by the Federal Trade Commission that the company processed payments and laundered credit card transactions for scams targeting hundreds of thousands of consumers.

The agency alleged that ex-vice president Chi “Vincent” Ko, through his former company First Pay Solutions, opened hundreds of fake merchant accounts and shell companies to take payments from the unwary.

The FTC claimed that First Data, one of the biggest payment processing companies in the U.S., received multiple “warnings and direct evidence” that Ko’s company was “permeated by fraud” as far back as 2012 but continued to let Ko and First Pay open merchant accounts until 2014.

“First Data is paying $40 million because it repeatedly looked the other way while its payment processing services were being used to commit fraud,” said Daniel Kaufman, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When companies fail to screen out fraudsters exploiting the payment processing system to steal people’s money, they’re breaking the law -- and injuring consumers.”

The FTC filed its complaint on Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. It announced the settlements with First Data and Ko, which must be approved by a judge, shortly afterward.

Fiserv Inc., which acquired First Data last July, said in a statement that the settlement relates to a single U.S.-based independent sales organization and that the deal “is in the best interest of First Data Merchant Services, our clients and their customers, and consumers.” The company remains “committed to ensuring that our business partners and merchants operate with integrity,” Britt Zarling, a representative of Fiserv, said in the statement.

Jim Walden, a lawyer for Ko, said his client has taken responsibility for his role, noting that Ko has agreed to pay more than $270,000 to settle a claim that First Pay Solutions “allowed a small number of rogue independent agents to sign up fraudster merchants for credit card processing.” Walden said the agents “submitted falsified applications” to conceal their fraud and that Ko “unequivocally denies” that he knew of it.

The schemes, which applied millions of dollars in illegal charges to consumers’ credit and debit accounts, included a work-at-home business coaching program and a debt relief telemarketing scheme that each took in at least $20 million, according to the FTC.

Even though Wells Fargo & Co. ended First Pay’s contract at the end of 2014 and warned of “deceptive practices,” First Data acquired the company’s merchant accounts in May 2015 and hired most of its employees, taking Ko on board as a vice president in January 2017, according to the FTC.

Bloomberg News
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