The defendants in two Tampa, Fla.-based operations that allegedly bilked consumers of millions of dollars are banned from providing the types of financial services used in their schemes, according to terms of a settlement reached with the Federal Trade Commission. A court shut down the operations in 2012.
The settlements impose a $25.3 million judgment against Brett Fisher, a repeat offender who had settled charges with the FTC in 2009 in a scam involving advance-fee credit cards and bogus interest-rate reduction claims. Fisher allegedly was the mastermind behind the more recent schemes. According to the FTC, the defendants used phony collection calls from India and bogus claims that they would reduce consumers credit card interest rates to bilk consumers.
The FTC alleged that between January 2010 and August 2011, defendants Fisher, Andre Keith Sanders, Pro Credit Group LLC, and Sanders Legal Group P.A. set up U.S.-based financial accounts for a call center operation based in India to unfairly collect payday loan debts from consumers who either did not owe them, or owed them to somebody else.
The operations callers used threats, lies and abusive tactics to collect debts from consumers who previously had applied for or received loans from online payday loan companies and had supplied sensitive personal financial information that found its way to those involved with the scam.
Once consumers agreed to pay, Fisher and attorney Sanders used Sanders Legal Group P.A. to process at least $5 million from consumers whom the India-based callers had misled. Although numerous consumers complained to the local Better Business Bureau chapter about the abusive tactics of the callers, and many consumers tried unsuccessfully to get refunds, the defendants continued processing consumers payments.
According to the FTC, from at least January 2010 until it brought its action, defendants Fisher, Sanders, Dale Robinson, William Balsamo and five companies they controlled Pro Credit Group, Sanders Law, Consumer Credit Group LLC, My Success Track LLC and First Financial Asset Services Inc. deceived consumers by offering a bogus service to negotiate lower interest rates.
The defendants allegedly used prerecorded telemarketing robocalls, including one from Rachel at cardholder services that urged consumers to press a number and speak to a live representative to obtain lower interest rates.
The defendants telemarketers falsely represented that they had established relationships with consumers lenders and often assured consumers that, if they did not see the promised results, they would receive full refunds, according to the complaint.
The defendants, FTC officials say, violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by allegedly charging consumers between $695 and $995 up front for their bogus service and failing to obtain written approval from consumers before sending them robocalls. The FTC halted five similar robocall operations in November 2012.
The settlements include the following provisions:
Impose the $25.3 million judgment on Fisher, which he agrees will not be discharged as a result of his pending bankruptcy filing.
Ban Fisher rom telemarketing, promoting financial goods and services and debt collecting.
Ban Sanders, Sanders Legal Group and Sanders Law from collections and telemarketing with narrow exceptions that allow him to continue practicing law. He is required to turn over available assets to satisfy a $23.8 million judgment.
Ban Robinson from telemarketing and debt relief services, and require him to turn over available assets to satisfy a $7.2 million judgment.
Ban Balsamo and First Financial Asset Services, Inc. from providing debt relief services; and prohibit them from making or helping others with making robocalls, making or helping others with making outbound sales calls unless they document and record them, and helping anyone outside the United States who telemarkets to U.S. consumers. Balsamo is required to turn over available assets to satisfy an $11.2 million judgment.
The FTC has brought two similar cases involving allegedly phony debt collectors, American Credit Crunchers and Broadway Global Masters, as well as a case last week involving an allegedly phony payday loan brokering service, Vantage Funding.