The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.
The Star Tribune's journalists need your help blowing the whistle in Minnesota. Contact us here.
Whistleblower has been on the trail of Rachel from Cardholder Services for years. Rachel has been the voice behind millions of illegal robocalls made over the years, pitching credit card rate reductions.
Now, the companies and people behind one robocalling scheme that used the voice of "Rachel" from "Cardholder Services" and charged up-front fees for services never provided must surrender their assets and stop scheming, according to an announcement by the Federal Trade Commission Friday.
Several companies and two individuals, all associated with the Florida company A+ Financial Center, made millions of illegal robocalls offering to obtain a reduction in the credit card interest rate consumers were paying.
The companies called phone numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry and collected upfront fees of between $495 and $1,595 by promising rates as low as zero percent, the FTC said.
"The defendants did little if anything to help consumers lower their credit card interest rates," the FTC said.
The group is banned from robocalling, trying to sell debt relief services and making misrepresentations related to any sales attempts. The defendants may not try to collect money from past victims.
A $9.2 million judgment was entered against A+ Financial Center, LLC, Christopher L. Miano and Dana M. Miano and a handful of other businesses managed by the Mianos. The judgment will be suspended once they turn over all but $25,000 of their assets, including a 2007 Mercedes Benz Cl and two boats worth a total of about $62,000.
The original complaint was filed by the FTC in October in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the district in which the Mianos resided.
Are you moving to a new city? Moving across town, but have limited mobility? Don't be fooled by bogus apartment rental scams, the Federal Trade Commission warns.
Here's how the scams work:
Scammers clone legitimate rental listings and alter them to include different contact information. They then place the modified ads in newspapers and online. Scammers also create listings for rentals that don't exist or aren't available.
When a person agrees to rent and wires money to the scammers, they have just kissed that money goodbye.
"Never wire money or send a check to someone you've never met for an apartment you've never seen," the FTC advised.
Run from high-pressure sales tactics and consider that the better the deal the more likely it is to be a scam, the commission said.
Landlords can also get scammed when a bogus renter sends a fake check to secure the rental. The check is for more than the agreed-upon amount and the scammer tells the landlord to cash the check and wire the difference back to the renter. Later, when the check comes back as fake, the landlord is left having to repay the bank, the FTC said.
If you wired money and then realized you've been taken, call the money transfer company to report the fraud. You can also file a complaint with the FTC.
Consumers who filed refund requests following a $40 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Skechers USA, Inc. should expect a check in the mail soon, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.
The lawsuit alleged that Skechers deceptively advertised its toning shoes, namely Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups shoes. The shoes sold for about $60 to $100 dollars.
The company made "unfounded claims that its Shape-ups shoes would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles," the FTC said.
According to a complaint filed by the FTC in 2012, the company's advertising claims included:
"Get in shape without setting foot in a gym."
"Shape-ups will help you lose weight and improve your circulation, creating a healthier you!"
"... once my Skechers Shape-ups are on snug and comfy, I'm toning my muscles, strengthening my core, burning calories."
The FTC also alleged in the complaint that clinical studies conducted for Skechers, upon which some advertising claims were made, used faulty methods. Two of the studies were conducted by a chiropractor who was married to a senior vice president of marketing at Skechers. One study lasted only six weeks, had only eight participants and included no control group, the complaint said. Another study allegedly included falsified data.
The settlement administrator will begin mailing the 509,175 refund checks on Friday. The checks must be cashed by October 10. The deadline for filing a refund request has passed.
Whistleblower got a call on her company cell phone last week. A recorded message informed her that the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles had analyzed her car insurance and determined she is paying too much.
While Whistleblower has no doubt that is true, as she has never had a black mark on her auto record, there's a problem with the message.
There is no Minnesota DMV.
Minnesota's equivalent is the DVS, the Driver and Vehicle Services Division of the Department of Public Safety.
Whistleblower hung up at that point and called the Department of Public Safety. Several others have done the same recently and the Department issued a press release on Thursday calling the solicitations "false and misleading."
"The calls begin with a recorded message that says something to the effect of 'according to recently released information from the Minnesota DMV you are paying too much for your car insurance,'" the DPS said.
DVS has no idea how much you are paying for insurance, the release said, and doesn't engage in telemarketing or allow the use of its name by telemarketers.
Robocalling is illegal except if used by certain groups such as charities, political campaigns and school districts.
Those who receive a DMV-related robocall or any other sales-related robocall for that matter may want to file a complaint with the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC and law enforcement agencies use information gleaned from thousands of complaints to attempt to determine the identity of the perpetrators.
A woman who "assisted and facilitated a scheme" that promised a "guaranteed $25,000 grant from the federal government," lost an appeal of a ruling that ordered her to repay $1,682,950 to victims, the Federal Trade Commission said.
In 2011, the FTC and the states of Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota and North Carolina sued Meggie Chapman in a Kansas district court.
A May 2013 appeals court decision announced Thursday found that Chapman, doing business as Meggie Chapman & Associates, violated the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule by deceiving consumers and "provided substantial assistance" to fellow schemers Wealth Power Systems, LLC and Aria Financial LLC.
The scheme worked this way:
Consumers were sent postcards stating the availability of government grants.
Those who called the toll-free number were offered a book for $69 called the "Professional Grant Writer," which Chapman and others wrote. The book, postcards and a recorded message contained misrepresentations about the likelihood of receiving a grant.
Next, the schemers offered grant-research services to those who called. The "services" cost between $800 and $1,100 and consisted of a printed list of potential funding sources. Many of the names on the list did not exist, didn't offer grants, didn't offer them to individuals or asked to be taken off the list.
Finally, the businesses offered grant-writing and grant-coaching services to the consumers.
|Crime (1)||Employment (1)|
|Whistleblower (439)||Home Improvement (4)|
|Advertising claims (66)||Businesses in hot water (300)|
|Buyer beware (183)||Civil liberties (19)|
|Complaint sagas (110)||Corruption (1)|
|Dangerous products (49)||Free speech (1)|
|Government spends your money (30)||How to blow the whistle (12)|
|Loopholes (10)||Neighborhood nuisances (36)|
|Polling problems (21)||Problems on the job (14)|
|Property problems (44)||Public records (37)|
|Scams (145)||Seniors (40)|
|Whistleblowers (22)||Discrimination (4)|