At the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) request, a federal court in Arizona has temporarily ceased the operations of a fraudulent telemarketing scheme that allegedly bilked more than $9 million from thousands of consumers across the nation – many of whom are elderly and live on fixed income.
The FTC’s complaint names the scam’s three owners and operators, Susan Rodriguez, Matthew Rodriguez and William “Matt” Whitley, and their six corporations, Advertising Strategies LLC, Internet Advertising Solutions LLC, Internet Resource Group Inc., Network Advertising Systems LLC, Network Professional Systems LLC, and Network Solutions Group Inc. They are charged with violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule, including calling numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
According to the FTC complaint, the scheme was run by cold-calling consumers to urge them to buy or invest in e-commerce websites, or websites that link to popular e-commerce websites, such as Amazon.com. The defendants falsely promised lavish returns and assured skeptical consumers that their investments were “risk free.”
The defendants allegedly received payments from consumers ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $20,000. During the first 90 days after consumers authorize payment by credit card, the defendants respond to their calls, assuring them that their “account” is earning substantial money that will be paid at the end of the quarter, while they used stall tactics to dissuade skeptical consumers from disputing the charges (many credit cards include a 90-day limit on consumers’ ability to dispute charges). After 90 days, the FTC stated that the defendants typically broke off all contact with their victims, who receive neither the promised returns nor refunds.
The complaint later alleges that the defendants use mail-forwarding services to disguise their location, and that they have changed their mailing and physical addresses, along with its business names, to avoid detection by law enforcement.