Florida Agencies Take More Than 180 Actions Against Instances of Telemarketing Fraud

FLORIDA AGENCIES, FTC ANNOUNCE LOCAL RESULTS FOR NATIONAL TELEMARKETING
SWEEP
~ National operation includes more than 180 actions against instances of
telemarketing fraud ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, Florida
Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson, the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and a series of Florida partners today
announced the results of a national telemarketing fraud sweep, including
several actions taken throughout Florida over the past few months.
Nationwide, authorities believe more than 500,000 consumers have been
affected by the 180 cases unveiled today, which may have defrauded victims
out of approximately $100 million. The Florida actions included five
agreements totaling more than $126,000 in reimbursements for consumers and
charitable donations, 12 arrests, and one lawsuit filed against a
Clearwater company accused of engaging in deceptive and unfair practices
by marketing and charging for “foreclosure consulting services” but
failing to provide the assistance promised.

“Telemarketing is not only annoying, but it can be deceptive and sometimes
blatantly illegal,” said Attorney General McCollum. “Consumers deserve to
be protected and this cooperative effort exemplifies what our federal,
state and local partners can do with combined resources for the good of
our citizens.”

The Florida Attorney General enforces Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade
Practices Act and other laws applying specifically to telemarketing. Among
the areas being investigated are the credit and debt consolidation
business, the sale of catalog credit cards, and the timeshare advertising
and sales industries. The Florida Attorney General’s office is also
investigating the mortgage foreclosure rescue industry, which is also
being widely marketed through telemarketing sales. Consumer surveys
conducted by the FTC showed that consumers in financial distress or on
fixed incomes were targeted, as were senior citizens. African American and
Hispanic consumers also reported more fraud.

“Operation Tele-Phoney” is the largest sweep of telemarketing frauds cases
ever coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission, with more than 180
actions being announced today. The comprehensive attack on telemarketing
fraud was launched by the FTC, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S.
Postal Inspection Service, state Attorneys General and other state
enforcement authorities, and the Competition Bureau in Canada and other
Canadian law enforcement agencies. Florida agencies involved in the sweep
include the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the
Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services and the
Clearwater Police Department.

“The sheer breadth of ‘Operation Tele-Phoney’ is a testament to the
ability of law enforcement agencies at all levels to work together
effectively to help protect consumers both in the United States and
abroad,” FTC Chairman William E. Kovacic said. “I’d like to personally
thank all of our partners in this sweep for helping to eradicate the
scourge of telemarketing fraud.”

Under “Operation Tele-Phoney,” the FTC has filed more than 10 new
telemarketing fraud cases; each FTC region has filed at least one.
Authorities estimate that consumers will save $30 million next year as a
result of these cases. Florida’s actions announced as part of “Operation
Tele-Phoney” include lawsuits, cease and desist orders, settlements, and
assurances of voluntary compliance. The actions are against telemarketers
pitching magazine subscriptions, medical prescription programs, automobile
warranties, etc. A complete list of Florida-based actions is available
online at:

http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/MRAY-7ETGX3/$file/TelePhoneyFLActi
ons.pdf
.

In March and April 2008, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services
Commissioner Charles H. Bronson’s department led a major sweep of
telemarketing boiler rooms in five Florida counties, with assistance from
the Attorney General’s Office and the Pinellas County Department of
Justice and Consumer Services. These actions were included in the national
statistics for “Operation Tele-Phoney,” among which are 42 indictments, 32
guilty pleas or convictions, and 17 sentencings, four of which resulted in
prison terms for 10 years or longer.

“Illegal boiler rooms that prey on citizens are unfortunately all too
commonplace,” said Commissioner Charles Bronson. “This sweep shows that we
will go after them wherever we find them.”

In addition to announcing the cases today, the FTC and its partners
unveiled a consumer protection initiative designed to educate consumers
about telemarketing fraud and help report fraud to the authorities. The
campaign features a new website and two short videos located at
http://www.ftc.gov/phonefraud and http://www.YouTube.com/ftcvideos and is
also available in Spanish. To recognize and avoid telemarketing fraud,
consumers are encouraged to ask the following questions:

– Who’s calling and why? Telemarketers must state they are making a
sales call, provide the name of the seller, and explain what they’re
selling before they make their pitch. If they don’t provide the required
information, get off the phone.
– What’s the hurry? Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics could be
hiding something. Most legitimate businesses will provide time and written
information about an offer before asking consumers to commit to a
purchase.
– If it’s free, why are they asking for a payment? Question any charges
needed to redeem a prize or gift. If there is a price involved, it’s a
purchase – not a prize or a gift.
– Why am I “confirming” my account information – or giving it out at
all? Some callers have a consumers’ billing information before they call
and need the consumers to acknowledge the information so they claim the
charges were approved. Do not provide any account information over the
phone.
– What time is it? The law allows telemarketers to only call between
8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. A seller calling earlier or later is flouting the
law.
– Isn’t there a National Do Not Call Registry? Placing phone numbers on
the Do Not Call Registry will stop most telemarketing calls – but not all.
Calls from sales people from unfamiliar businesses may be the sign of a
scam.

Consumers are also encouraged to report phone fraud and Do Not Call
violations. Telemarketing or phone fraud may be reported to the Attorney
General’s Office online at http://myfloridalegal.com or by calling
1-866-966-7226. Florida also operates the nation’s first “Do Not Call”
list, and consumers can call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or visit the
Division of Consumer Services’ website at http://www.800helpfla.com to get
more information about the program or instructions on how to sign up for
it. A call to the same toll-free hotline can be used by consumers to
determine if a telemarketer is registered in Florida or for information on
how to file a complaint against such a business.

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