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FTC Steps Up Efforts Against Scams That Target Financially-Strapped Consumers

5 March 2011 1,587 No Comment

More Than 90 Actions Brought By Commission and Its Law Enforcement Partners

The Federal Trade Commission today stepped up its ongoing campaign against scammers who falsely promise guaranteed jobs and opportunities to “be your own boss” to consumers who are struggling with unemployment and diminished incomes as a consequence of the economic downturn.

“Operation Empty Promises,” a multi-agency law enforcement initiative today announced more than 90 enforcement actions, including three new FTC cases and developments in seven other matters, 48 criminal actions by the Department of Justice (many of which involved the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service), seven additional civil actions by the Postal Inspection Service, and 28 actions by state law enforcement agencies in Alaska, California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

In a press conference at the FTC, David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was joined by Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice; Greg Campbell, Deputy Chief Inspector of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper; and a California consumer who had bought into a program to start his own Internet business.

“The victims of these frauds are our neighbors – people who are trying to make an honest living,” said David C. Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Under pressure to make ends meet, they risked their limited financial resources in response to the promise of a job, an income – a chance at a profitable home-based business. But these turned out to be empty promises – and the people who counted on them ended up with high levels of frustration and even higher levels of debt.”

The FTC has updated consumer education materials to help consumers avoid falling victim to these scams. Screen shots from the websites of some of the operators charged in this law enforcement sweep, as well as video footage of FTC Consumer Protection Director Vladeck and FTC attorney Daniel Hanks, are also available at ftc.gov/bizopps or youtube.com/FTCvideos.

Operation Empty Promises: FTC Law Enforcement Actions

The FTC today announced three new law enforcement actions and developments in seven other matters.

Ivy Capital Inc. and 29 co-defendants* allegedly have taken more than $40 million from people who paid thousands of dollars believing Ivy Capital would help them develop their own Internet businesses and earn up to $10,000 per month. According to the FTC’s complaint, Ivy Capital’s telemarketers asked consumers how much credit they had on their credit cards and then talked them into using a substantial portion of their available credit to purchase a business coaching program. But the promised products and services were worthless, the complaint alleged. Ivy Capital’s “expert” coaches lacked the promised knowledge and experience, its website-building software programs did not work properly, and the lawyers and accountants the defendants said would provide assistance were nonexistent. Consumers paid up to $20,000 for a business coaching program and related products and services but got very little in return.

As alleged in the FTC’s complaint, Ivy Capital’s telemarketers called people who responded to e-mail and advertising about work-at-home or Internet business opportunities from companies such as Jennifer Johnson’s Home Job Placement Program and Brent Austin’s Automated Wealth System. The ads originated from fictional companies Ivy Capital created to generate sales leads – potential customers’ names and phone numbers – for its operation. The complaint further alleged that in calls that could last for more than an hour, Ivy Capital’s telemarketers used high-pressure sales and promised consumers they could make thousands of dollars a week working just 5 to 10 hours. Shortly after signing up for the program, consumers received sales calls from companies affiliated with Ivy Capital offering additional business services, including access to credit, expert tax advice, and other services that could cost thousands of dollars in addition to the original fee. Ivy Capital offered a refund program that, in practice, made it difficult for people to get their money back if they cancelled. According to the FTC complaint, some consumers who repeatedly complained to state and federal agencies were offered refunds, but only if they agreed not to publicly disparage the defendants and kept their refunds confidential.

The Ivy Capital defendants allegedly misrepresented their program’s earning potential, misrepresented the goods and services they would provide, and failed to fully disclose and honor their refund policy, in violation of the FTC Act. They allegedly misrepresented their services, failed to fully disclose their refund policy, called telephone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, and did not pay the fee for accessing the Registry, in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. On February 22, 2011, the FTC obtained an order that temporarily halted Ivy Capital’s unlawful practices, froze assets, and appointed a receiver to take control of the corporate defendants.

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