A U.S. district court in Miami has temporarily shut down a fraudulent debt collection operation that deceived thousands of Spanish-speaking consumers nationwide and attempted to collect money they didn't owe.

The defendants include Centro Natural Corp., Sumore LLC and individuals Carolina Orellana, Damian Biondi, Javier Sumbre and Jessica Anzola, and relief defendant Bionore Inc. Centro Natural and Sumore bilked consumers out of at least two million dollars, according to the Federal Trade Commission's complaint. The FTC is seeking a court order permanently stopping the scam.

The FTC charged that since at least 2011 the defendants cold-called consumers and threatened them with harsh consequences, such as arrest, legal actions and immigration status investigations, if they failed to make large payments on bogus debts. The defendants sometimes claimed to be court or government officials. They demanded that consumers pay them to settle phantom debts that typically ranged between $3,000 and $9,000.

The FTC alleges that the defendants often told consumers that they could settle their debts by paying defendants hundreds of dollars. If consumers refused to pay, the defendants often continued to call and threaten them, sometimes using profane language. 

The defendants also kept calling consumers who asked them not to call again, regularly cold-called consumers whose phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry, and failed to pay fees for the Do Not Call Registry.

The defendants’ telemarketers also pressured and deceived consumers into paying for unwanted products by telling consumers it would settle their debt.

The complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and failing to pay for, or abide by, the rules of the Do Not Call Registry.

"These defendants deserve a shameful Triple Crown for fraud. They posed as government officials, used abusive debt collection practices, and ignored the National Do Not Call Registry," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We’re shining a light on fraud affecting every community, and we’re pleased that this scheme targeting Latinos has been stopped."

The FTC's complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

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