The FTC has shut down a phone fraud scam that involved scammers calling consumers–mostly elderly and on fixed incomes–and pressuring them to invest in web sites that supposedly had ties to large companies, promising quick returns. The scheme allegedly netted the scammers more than $9 million.
The scheme involved six companies that the FTC alleges were owned and operated by three defendants, Susan Rodriguez, Matthew Rodriguez and William Whitley. The commission alleges that the defendants would call consumers unsolicited and try to convince them to hand over money for an investment in e-commerce sites that supposedly had links to large, legitimate sites such as Amazon.
“The defendants have 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,” the FTC said in a statement.
“The defendants allegedly use 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 alleges that the defendants typically cease all contact with their victims, who receive neither the promised returns nor refunds.”
“Defendants promise consumers substantial returns or income, such as hundreds or thousands of dollars every quarter.”
The commission said that the three defendants used a series of mail-forwarding processes and multiple business names and offices in order to evade law enforcement.
“For example, when the Arizona Attorney General’s office summoned Susan Rodriguez to testify about the defendants’ business at a Phoenix address, the defendants promptly closed that office and moved to a different location, and Rodriguez failed to appear to testify. The defendants most recently have done business as Titan Income. They have previously done business as Building Money Network and buildingmoney.cash, Prime Cash and Primecash.net, and Wyze Money and wyzemoney.net,” the commission said.
The FTC asked a federal court in Arizona to issue a temporary restraining order against the defendants and has frozen their assets in advance of an Oct. 18 preliminary hearing. The scheme that the commission alleges these defendants were running is similar to others operated by phone fraud rings around the world. Though the tactics may differ, the general objective is always to keep the victim on the phone long enough to convince him to hand over some money.
“The details of the offer differ, but Defendants routinely describe it as an offer to purchase or invest in e-commerce websites, or websites that direct traffic to e-commerce websites such as Amazon.com. Defendants’ telemarketers typically promise consumers that they will earn money based on sales at the e-commerce websites and/or traffic through their websites to the e-commerce websites. Defendants promise consumers substantial returns or income, such as hundreds or thousands of dollars every quarter,” the FTC complaint says.