The telemarketing business will be permanently off limits to a pitchman whom the Federal Trade Commission sued last year for allegedly tricking consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for a credit card that could only be used to buy merchandise from his companies’ Web sites.
Under a settlement order with the FTC, James Nicholson and a group of companies he controls have settled FTC charges related to an advance-fee credit card scam and an advance-fee, interest-rate reduction/debt negotiation program.
The FTC also had alleged the defendants debited consumer bank accounts without permission, failed to tell consumers they would not be able to get a refund and illegally called consumers whose names were on the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Under the settlement order, Nicholson and his companies will pay more than $200,000.
The FTC filed a complaint in 2009 charging Nicholson and several of his businesses with using deceptive telemarketing pitches since 2006 to offer consumers with poor or no credit a general-use credit card in exchange for an upfront fee of as much as $250.
Telemarketers working for Nicholson’s chief company, Group One Network, also claimed that consumers would gain access to a large line of credit that could be used for cash advances, and that their payment histories would be reported to the three major credit bureaus.
In reality, consumers who paid the fee received an online shopping card they could only use to buy products from Group One’s Web sites, they could not get cash advances, and their credit histories were never reported to the credit bureaus.
In April 2009, the FTC filed an amended complaint naming four more companies and adding new allegations relating to the deceptive telemarketing of a advance-fee interest-rate reduction/debt negotiation program by a business operating as Credit First Financial Solutions.
The FTC’s amended complaint alleged that Nicholson’s telemarketers, among other things, falsely represented that in exchange for an upfront fee, they could lower consumers’ interest rates by negotiating with consumers’ creditors; would provide consumers a minimum savings of $1,500 to $20,000 within the first 30 days of their enrollment; and would provide a full refund if they failed to achieve the promised savings.
The settlement announced Friday bans Nicholson, a repeat offender who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with fraudulent telemarketing in 1995, from telemarketing and from selling advance-fee loans or credit cards.
The settlement also bans Nicholson from assisting anyone in telemarketing or marketing such loans; prohibits him and his companies from misleading consumers about credit-related goods or services, or any other goods or services they market; and, imposes a $17.2 million judgment against all the defendants, which has been suspended based on their inability to pay the full amount.
Nicholson will turn over a 31-foot power boat, his Nissan Pathfinder and jewelry and art valued at more than $10,000. The other defendants will turn over more than $200,000 in cash and other assets.
The settlement resolves the FTC’s charges against the following companies: Group One Networks Inc. - doing business as (dba) Credit Line Gold Card, The USA Workers, TheUSAWork.com and TheUSAWorkers.com; US Gold Line LLC - dba USGoldLine.com, Gainsway Credit and GainswayCredit.com; and My Online Credit Store LLC - dba MyOnlineCreditStore.com, MYOnlinecr.com, Diamond Executive, NewECredit and NewECredit.com.
Brett Fisher, the chief executive of Group One Networks Inc., and manager of US Gold Line LLC and My Online Credit Store LLC, settled similar FTC charges in December 2009.
He agreed to a court order banning him from selling advance-fee credit cards and from violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The order against Fisher also imposed a $17.2 million judgment, which was suspended based on his inability to pay. He has turned over $21,000 in cash to the FTC.
Nicholson and Fisher could not be reached for comment.