Defendants in Spanish-language scheme banned from telemarketing, selling weight-loss products

government actionIn a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, defendants in a Spanish-language marketing scheme are banned from telemarketing and selling weight-loss products. The defendants allegedly charged Spanish-speaking consumers for unordered and defective products and made it costly or nearly impossible to get refunds.

According to a the FTC, The Hispanic Global Way defendants sold products via Spanish-language television ads and Peruvian call centers and then shipped incomplete orders, wrong or defective products, products of the wrong size or color, and products that did not perform as advertised, including a bogus weight-loss belt.

Consumers who complained were reportedly ignored or insulted, told they couldn’t exchange or return the products, or told they had to pay a fee ranging from $20 to $299 to do so. When the defendants did promise refunds or exchanges, they never materialized. A federal judge halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets, pending litigation.

Under the settlement order, the defendants must provide refunds or exchanges, free of charge, for incorrect or non-working products. They are barred from misrepresenting goods and services and must disclose restrictions or conditions on refunds, repurchases or exchanges. They are also banned from selling and failing to properly dispose of, customers’ personal information.

Defendants who settled are: Rafael Martin Hernandez, Maria Gisella Carrasco, Maria Elizabeth Vera, Hispanic Global Way Corp., Hispanic Global Way LLC, Hispanic Global Way Venez Corp, Hispanic Global Way Venez 1 Corp, Gold Lead USA Corporation, Sky Advance Choices Corp., Sky Advance LLC, First Airborne Service Trading Corp, Hispanic Network Connections LLC, and Fast Solutions Plus Corp. The FTC is seeking default judgments against Grand Team Service Corp. and Roberto Carrasco Macedo.

The court order includes a $50 million judgment that will be suspended following surrender of all of the defendants’ significant assets, including Carrasco’s North Miami house, U.S. and Peruvian bank accounts, and jewelry; a 2010 Mercedes Benz owned by Hispanic Way; and a life insurance policy and U.S. and Peruvian bank accounts owned by Hernandez.

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BBB celebrates National Consumer Protection Week

national-consumer-protectionNational Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. NCPW 2015 will take place March 1 through March 7, 2015.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) helps people find and recommend businesses, brands and charities they can trust. Thousands of people turn to BBB as the preeminent resource on businesses. Our goal is to go the extra mile in encouraging consumers to take full advantage of their rights.

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, BBB is offering these tips:

  1. Always check out a business with BBB first. Go to bbb.org/central-texas to see a company’s BBB Business Review. A BBB Business Review will tell you how many complaints a company has received, whether the company responded to the complaints, licensing information, ad-related issues and more. You can also find a trustworthy business using BBB Member Pages, which lists local BBB Accredited Businesses by industry.
  2. Get everything in writing and always read the fine print. Contracts are meant to protect businesses and consumers by outlining the terms of the agreement. While it’s natural to want to skim through parts of the long-written terms and conditions, it is important that customers fully understand their rights and what they’re agreeing to. Whenever signing a contract, BBB recommends reading the fine print carefully—even if it means taking it home and sleeping on it.
  3. Protect your identity—and your pocketbook. Fighting identity theft means staying vigilant online and offline. Always shred sensitive documents that include personal financial information such as bank, credit card and Social Security numbers. Monitor your financial accounts closely to quickly detect suspicious activity. Shop online through secure sites by looking for the “s” in “https”. Always confirm that the business is trustworthy before entering your credit or debit card number.
  4. Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Scammers know it’s extremely difficult to track money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union, so never wire money to someone one you don’t know. More troubling for victims is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get your money back once it’s been sent via wire. Even if you’ve been given a check to cover the amount you’re wiring, never send money to someone you don’t know personally. The check could be fraudulent, leaving you liable for the money.
  5. Do your research. If you’ve been a victim of a scam or treated unfairly by a business, there are many organizations and government agencies you can turn to for help. You can file a complaint with your BBB at www.bbb.org/central-texas or the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
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15-Year Sentence for Securities Fraud Against Elderly

government actionThe Texas State Securities Board announced last week that Charles Wayne Kilway of North Richland Hills was sentenced to 15 years in state prison for fraudulent securities sales and theft of property from the elderly. Kilway allegedly stole $10,000 or more.

Kilway was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating the conditions of his probation following an earlier, unrelated securities fraud case. The sentences will run concurrently.

Kilway sold promissory notes for North Richland Hills-based JBS Holdings LLC. According to the motion to revoke probation, filed Jan. 22 in Dallas County, Kilway used the money he raised from the promissory notes to pay for personal and family expenses and transferred funds to his wife’s account.

Kilway didn’t tell the people who purchased the JBS notes that he had been convicted of securities fraud in 2005, a case for which he was sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to pay $602,120 in restitution, most of which remains unpaid.

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BBB warns of scams targeting service members

Military Saves Week is an opportunity to focus on the financial readiness of Service Members and their families to help them reduce debt and save money for the future.  But scammers are also interested in Service Members too. Better Business Bureau (BBB) and MilitarySaves.org wants to remind you to watch out for common scams that specifically target Service Members and their families.

Here are the most common scams targeting our men and women in uniform:

  • Online Dating Scams: Con artists steal identities of real soldiers on social networking sites like Facebook and pose as Service Members, posting their photos on popular dating sites. Once they gain the trust of someone their engaging with online, scammers then ask for everything from laptop computers to money for airfare so they can fly back to the U.S.
  • Protest Scams:  Some scammers are contacting the families of Service Members by phone or email and making false claims that their son or daughter is injured or wounded overseas. Often they ask for a wire transfer or money order to cover medical bills.
  • Online Classifieds Car Scam: Scammers are taking to online classifieds, offering too-good-to-be-true discounts on cars for military personnel. In some cases, the con artists claim they are Service Members about to be deployed and need to sell a vehicle fast. Similarly, others offer a special discount for serving their country, but require a wire transfer deposit.
  • Military Loan Scams: Service Members who have less than perfect credit are becoming victims of flashy offers that typically promise “up to 40 percent of your monthly take home pay,” “same day cash,” “no credit check,” “all ranks approved.” But these offers can come with sky-high interest rates that do more harm than good. Often this practice involves the entire family of military members, so it can do years of damage to their financial security.
  • Housing Scams: Due to the nature of military service, those who serve and their families are forced to move from base to base around the country. Knowing this, scammers go to online classified sites to target areas near military installations. They lift the descriptions of legitimate rental properties and rewrite the post so it offers a special discount for Service Members. Depicting a too-good-to-be-true offer, they ask for a security deposit to be wired in advance to ensure their occupancy. But often, the individual or family arrives at the rental property only to find it already occupied.

BBB offers some helpful tips to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a scam. To avoid these and many other scams that target Service Members, BBB advises:

  • Protect Finances. Never wire money to strangers.
  • Safeguard your identity. Actively deployed military personnel can place an “active duty alert” on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft.
  • Report Scams. File a complaint with your Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

For those of us who haven’t served, but are interested in supporting a veteran or military charity, it’s important to verify the legitimacy of an organization. Research a charity through BBB Wise Giving Alliance, at Give.org.

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BBB warns: Don’t get fooled by an IRS scam call!

ID-100297158As tax time approaches, Your BBB continues to receive numerous phone calls from people who say they got threatening calls from scam artists claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS published the following warning about the scam: Phone Scams Continue to be Serious Threat, Remain on IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2015 Filing Season.

Scam callers often threaten the consumer with arrest, deportation and license revocation if they don’t receive immediate payment. They then try to get the consumer to pay using a pre-paid debit card or other untraceable methods.

Scammers often manipulate caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They also use fake names and IRS badge numbers in order to sound official. Scammers often target vulnerable people such as the elderly and recent immigrants.

According to the IRS, nearly 3,000 victims collectively paid over $14 million as a result of the scam.

The IRS will NEVER:

  • Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes without mailing you a bill.
  • Demand payment without giving you a chance to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Require a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to have you arrested for not paying.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you should do the following:

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FTC issues refund checks to U.S. consumers who bought Double Shot diet supplements

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Image courtesy of m_bartosch at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did you purchase Double Shot pills, which promised to “cause rapid, substantial, and permanent weight loss without diet or exercise” (but did not)? If so, you may have a refund check coming.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last week that it would be sending out checks totaling more than $464,000 to consumers who purchased the dietary supplements, which were marketed as “fat burning” and “calorie blocking.”

These are real checks, and the FTC encourages consumers who receive them to cash them before they expire on April 21. Note: The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information before redress checks can be cashed.

The refunds are the result of a July 2014 settlement with Canadian marketers. According to the FTC, Manon Fernet and the company she controls, which did business as the “Freedom Center Against Obesity,” marketed Double Shot to U.S. consumers from 2012 through October 2013.

Consumers were told they could eat as much of any food as they wanted and lose 15 to 20 pounds a week, just by taking the pills. Rust Consulting, Inc., the redress administrator for this matter, mailed refund checks to eligible consumers beginning Feb. 20, 2015. The checks must be cashed by April 21, 2015 or they will become void.

For more information: http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/02/ftc-sends-refund-checks-totaling-more-464000-consumers-who-lost?utm_source=govdelivery

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BBB says: Don’t get burned this spring break–book your vacation wisely!

ID-100287969It might be cold where you are right now, but spring is just around the corner. Now is the time to start making your vacation plans.

Planning your trip may require making reservations with multiple businesses whether online or on the telephone. A travel agency can make the process of booking your spring vacation quick and easy. But using the wrong one could turn your vacation into a nightmare.  Your BBB advises you to do your research before you book your next vacation.

In 2014, BBB received nearly 8,000 complaints nationally against travel agencies and bureaus. Most complaints alleged consumers felt misled by travel offers that failed to deliver on promises. In some cases, consumers paid money for travel arrangements that were never made.

Follow this advice from your BBB to ensure your trip will be worry free:

  • Use a travel company you trust. Ask family and friends to recommend a company they’ve used and go to org to see the company’s BBB Business Review. You can also utilize BBB Member Pages to find a BBB Accredited Business for your travel needs.
  • Get all vacation details in writing. Get all the details of your vacation in writing, including travel itineraries and booking confirmations. Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies.
  • Verify reservations. Get the contact information for the airline, rental car company and hotel. Call to confirm all arrangements with them. Don’t only rely on the word of your agent.
  • Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance is designed to cover such things as trip cancellations or medical emergencies. Certain companies and policies have different levels of coverage based on whether you purchase the car rental, hotel, or flight. Ask a lot of questions, and always read the fine print to see what’s covered.
  • Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card gives you additional protection if something were to go wrong with the travel reservation.
  • Be alert for travel scams. Unsolicited mail, email and websites offering deeply discounted travel packages could leave you out of a vacation and money if you’re not careful. Watch out for scams saying that you have “won a trip.”  Generally if you’ve truly won something, it will be given to you as a gift. Be especially leery if the offer is unsolicited.
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Top three scams targeting businesses

ID-100297158Education is key when it comes to protecting yourself and your business from fraudsters. To avoid falling victim to three of the most common business scams, everyone in your office needs to be alert and aware.

Labor law poster scam: An important-looking letter addressed to your company informs you that you need to order new versions of some labor law posters. Attached is an order form for you to fill out and return along with payment, which can be up to several hundred dollars. The wording in the letter implies that failure to pay for these posters will result in your company being out of compliance with state and federal labor laws—and there could be legal ramifications.

  • How to protect your business: There are, in fact, certain posters that need to be displayed in every workplace according to the law. However, the posters can be obtained for free from your state labor department. In Texas, the posters can be obtained from the Texas Workforce Commission. For more information, Texas employers can call the TWC’s Labor Law unit at 800-832-9243 or 512-475-2670.

Office supply scam: A delivery of office supplies arrives on your company’s doorstep, and an employee pays for them, assuming a colleague must have placed an order. But it turns out the box contains items you didn’t order and don’t need, or it’s completely empty.

  • How to protect your business: Make sure your company has a formal process for ordering office supplies, paying for them and accepting deliveries. If you keep track of all orders placed, the employee responsible for accepting deliveries should be able to match any shipment to the tracking sheet before accepting it.

Directory listing scam: You receive a phone call asking to update or confirm your company’s contact information in a business directory listing, and you’re led to believe it’s the Yellow Pages. A short time later, you receive an invoice for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a listing in a directory you’ve never heard of—and, typically, one that doesn’t even exist. Unsuspecting employees may pay the bill, not realizing you never agreed to the charges. If you refuse to pay or try to cancel your listing, the scammers threaten you with legal action and aggressive collection tactics. They may even play back a doctored recording of your phone conversation as “proof” of your agreement to the charges.

  • How to protect your business: Steer clear of solicitations for directory listings. Instead, be proactive and selective about which directories you want your business to be listed in, and contact them yourself to initiate a listing. When the time comes to renew, verify any contact from someone claiming to be with the directory company.

If you are aware of a sketchy company or if you have fallen victim to a scam, report your experience to Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The knowledge you share could save countless businesses from becoming victims themselves.

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Jamaican man first to be extradited to the U.S. on charges in international lottery scheme

ID-10027339Your BBB regularly gets calls from consumers who were told they just won a big lottery prize–all they have to do is wire a few hundred dollars to cover some kind of fee. Of course, if they do, the money is lost and they never get their fake lottery winnings.

Many of these lottery scams are run out of Jamaica and it seems like the folks who do it will never get caught, but one just did.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that 28-year-old Damion Bryan Barrett was extradited from Jamaica to Florida, where he will face charges for his alleged part in an international lottery scheme that targeted elderly victims in the U.S.

Barrett is the first Jamaican citizen to be extradited from Jamaica to the U.S. on charges of defrauding Americans in a lottery scheme.

Barrett and his co-conspirators allegedly tricked elderly victims in the U.S. into sending thousands of dollars to pay “fees” for lottery winnings they hadn’t actually won.  The victims never received cash or prizes.

Barrett and his associates allegedly made calls from Jamaica using technology that allowed them to use a telephone number with a U.S. area code.  The victims were reportedly convinced to send money to middlemen in South Florida, who forwarded the money to Jamaica.

If convicted, Barrett faces up to 30 years in prison per count, as well as a possible fine and restitution.  Barrett’s co-defendant, Oneike Barnett, 29, pleaded guilty on Feb. 28, 2014, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  On April 29, 2014, Barnett was sentenced to 60 months in prison and five years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $94,456 in restitution.

Here are five red flags of a lottery scam, so you don’t become a victim:

  1. You’re told you’ve won a contest you didn’t enter. You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. Whether it’s by phone or mail, scammers seek out their targets. Verify that it is a legitimate business by doing research on the company.
  2. You are offered ‘too-good-to-be-true’ prizes. It is almost always a large sum of money, but there is always a catch. Scammers attempt to make it sound easy to claim your prize. The reality is it is very unlikely that someone will give away large sums of money with no strings attached.
  3. You have to give personal information. Anytime someone tries to get your bank account number, Social Security Number or other sensitive information, that should be an automatic red flag. There is also no need to access financial information, like a credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.
  4. You have to pay to win. Don’t be blinded by the promise of a large sum of money in the future. If they are asking you to give them money first, that’s a red flag. According to the Federal Trade Commission, It’s illegal to ask you to pay or buy something to enter or increase your odds of winning. Legitimate prizes do not come with processing fees, and taxes are paid directly to the Internal Revenue Service after winnings are collected.
  5. You have to wire money or use prepaid debit cards. If you are asked to use these transfer methods in order to get a prize or any other large sum of money, that is a major red flag. It’s difficult to track these types of transactions, so you will have little to no way of getting your money back.
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BBB announces new Code of Advertising

BBB Logo in Reverse on BlueBBB has been advocating for truthful advertising since 1917, which means that the organization has seen many changes in advertising practices over the years.  The public now regularly encounters ads that make claims about how products affect the environment, how products are made, and how to compare prices of different items.

How should advertisers make sure consumers understand their ads– and how should consumers interpret the ads they see?

BBB’s Code of Advertising is designed to clear up all this confusion.  We’ve recently updated the code to more clearly address these contemporary trends in advertising– here are some of the changes we’ve made.

The updated Code of Advertising specifies that ads that make claims about environmental benefits should be backed up with solid evidence and should be specific about how the product is beneficial to the environment.  This should disincentivize “greenwashing” and help consumers to understand their impact on the environment more clearly.

Similarly, advertising claims that products are “Made in the USA” or “Made in Canada” are also required to be precise and to be backed up by evidence.

The updated code also addresses the trend of hiring celebrities to endorse products on social media.  The new Code specifies that these new kinds of ads have to genuinely represent endorsers’ opinions, just like any other endorsement.

Another big change is that advertisers can now make claims of savings “up to” a certain percentage off the original price without always specifying the range of savings.  Consumers today are savvy enough to understand that the phrase “up to 40 percent off,” for example, will mean that there is a range of discounts.

In order to prevent consumers from being misled, the Code specifies that 10 percent or more of the items on sale be discounted at the highest rate in the range.  After all, if 100 items are on sale at 20 percent off and one item is on sale at 40 percent off, “up to 40 percent off” wouldn’t be an accurate way to represent the discount.

Overall, these changes should help businesses and consumers to communicate more clearly– which is always BBB’s goal.

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