A federal district court shut down a robocall operation that allegedly pretended to be the Federal Trade Commission in an effort to trick consumers into turning over their bank account information and other sensitive personal data.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the FTC charged that the operation run by The Cuban Exchange Inc., also doing business as CrediSure America and MyiPad.us, and its principal, Suhaylee Rivera, claimed it could help consumers obtain refunds from the agency, in an effort to coax them into providing their personal information and bank account numbers.
According to the agency, the company falsely told consumers it has helped “more than 13,000” people get refunds. It also “spoofed” the FTC’s Consumer Response toll-free phone number so that the FTC’s number appeared on consumers’ Caller ID devices and used a website address – ftcrefund.com – designed to confuse consumers into thinking the operation had a connection with the FTC.
“When the Federal Trade Commission returns money to consumers who have been ripped off, it doesn’t use robocalls, and it certainly doesn’t ask them to provide personal financial information,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “To anyone hell-bent on breaking the law by making illegal robocalls, transmitting phony Caller ID information, or impersonating a federal agency, we have two words for you: Stop now. The real Federal Trade Commission will come after you.”
The case is the 100th brought by the FTC over the past nine years alleging violations related to the national Do Not Call Registry, which was launched in 2003. Along with allegedly making illegal telemarketing robocalls, the defendants called consumers whose phone numbers are on the Registry.
The FTC charged that the defendants made illegal robocalls to consumers that played a prerecorded messaged telling them to visit the Web site ftcrefund.com. During the message, they give consumers a phony “seizure ID number.” The message uses the same “seizure ID number” for all consumers the defendants contact.
When calling consumers, the defendants allegedly transmit the toll-free phone number for the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, 877-382-4357, often broadcast to the public as 877-FTC-HELP, to consumers’ Caller ID devices, leading some to think the call is coming from the FTC.
Consumers who visit the ftcrefund.com site, or an identical site, credisure.net, are told that, “CrediSure has the proper knowledge and open door [sic] to expedite refunds you may not even know were owed to you. CrediSure works as a tireless collector and fiercely fights for its clients [sic] refunds to be paid first.”
Consumers are then told they will get a refund from the FTC in “five to seven business days, as opposed to the standard 8 to 10 weeks,” and instructs them how to enter their “Seizure ID” number and “depository information” to get the process started. Consumers are told that the defendants will take 5.55 percent of the refund as a fee for the service of speeding up the refund process.
They also allegedly falsely claim that, “Over 13,000 clients have received refunds through CrediSure America.”
Consumers who enter their “Seizure ID” number on the site are directed to a page on the site that provides them with information on the name of the refund case, the amount to be refunded, the fee the defendant will charge, and the supposed total amount of the refund the consumer will receive.
To get the “refund,” consumers must provide their address, phone number, bank name (including the name listed on the account), account number, routing number, and a check number, supposedly so refunds can be deposited directly into their accounts. The FTC, however, does not provide refunds by direct deposit, only by check.
Based on this alleged conduct, the complaint charges the defendants with a making a range of misrepresentations, including:
• That they are affiliated with or endorsed by the FTC;
• That they can obtain refunds/redress from the FTC on behalf of consumers;
• That they can reduce FTC refund/redress wait time from five to seven business days from 8 to 10 weeks;
• That they know the consumer is entitled to a refund or redress from the FTC; and
• That they have helped more than 13,000 clients get refunds/redress from the FTC.
The complaint also charges the defendants with violating the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting their affiliation with, or endorsement or sponsorship by, the FTC, and by making material misrepresentations about the services they provide consumers.