At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court in Miami has temporarily shut down a fraudulent phantom debt collection operation that deceived and abused thousands of Spanish-speaking consumers across the country in an attempt to collect money they did not even owe.
The FTC made the announcement the same day as its “Debt Collection & the Latino Community” roundtable, held jointly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
According to the FTC, the defendants behind Centro Natural Corp. and Sumore L.L.C bilked consumers out of at least two million dollars. The FTC is seeking a court order permanently stopping the defendants’ scam.
In its complaint, the FTC charged that the defendants cold-called consumers and threatened them with harsh consequences, such as arrest, legal actions, and immigration status investigations, if they failed to make large payments on bogus debts. The defendants’ telemarketers also pressured and deceived consumers into paying for unwanted products by telling consumers it would “settle” their debt.
“These defendants deserve a shameful Triple Crown for fraud. They posed as government officials, used abusive debt collection practices, and ignored the National Do Not Call Registry,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re shining a light on fraud affecting every community, and we’re pleased that this scheme targeting Latinos has been stopped.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, since at least 2011, the defendants have held themselves out as court or government officials or lawyers. They demanded that consumers pay them to “settle” phantom debts that typically ranged between $3,000 and $9,000. The FTC alleges that the defendants often told consumers that they could settle their debts by paying defendants hundreds of dollars. If consumers refused to pay, the defendants often continued to call and threaten them, sometimes using profane language.
The complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and failing to pay for, or abide by, the rules of the Do Not Call Registry.
The FTC’s suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on October 20, 2014. The court issued a temporary restraining order against the defendants the same day.