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Friday, June 13, 2014

IRN settles with FTC over telemarketing scam

For its role in processing payments for a telemarketer that engaged in a credit card interest rate reduction scam, Independent Resources Network Corp., doing business as IRN Payment Systems, agreed to a $3.48 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said Westbury, New York-based IRN knowingly assisted and facilitated the scam of Clearwater, Fla.-based telemarketer Innovative Wealth Builders Inc., which defrauded consumers of almost $10 million.

According to the FTC, IWB cold-called consumers with the offer of reducing their credit card rates and saving them thousands of dollars. After obtaining credit card numbers, IWB then charged customers fees for the bogus service. Consumers never received the services offered, and IWB charged them fees ranging from $500 to $2,000, the FTC said.

IRN was reportedly IWB's exclusive payment processor for most of the time it operated its scam – from at least August 2009 through January 2013, when IWB was shut down. In June 2013, the FTC alleged in its amended complaint that IRN "facilitated IWB's scheme when IRN knew, or consciously avoided knowing, key facts about the illegal conduct of IWB's telemarketing scam in violation of the TSR [Telemarketing Sales Rule], and chose to continue profiting from processing IWB's credit card transactions."

Apparently, as part of IRN's alleged complicity in the scheme, the processor overlooked the high level of chargebacks associated with IWB's high-risk operation. The FTC said that in violating the TSR, best known for its do not call registry, IRN would pay or relinquish $1.1 million, and the $3.48 million settlement would be suspended once IRN paid $400,000 of it, with an additional $700,000 in IRN reserve funds also forfeited.

IRN garnered industry goodwill for operating a charity-focused payment service called The Hope Process. And IRN's former President, Dino Sgueglia, founded the nonprofit organization Danny's Wish to honor his autistic son. At press time, the processor could not be reached for comment on the FTC settlement.

Evidence against IRN

The FTC's evidence that IRN could not claim ignorance of IWB's activities appears to be extensive. Since high chargeback rates are an indicator of high-risk activities, and potential fraud, the FTC focused on IWB's chargeback rates over the life of its processing relationship with IRN.

In the complaint, the FTC alleged that, in comparison to the average chargeback rate of below 1 percent for other IRN clients, the rate for IWB exceeded 1 percent in August 2009, 3 percent the next month and ballooned to a high of 11 percent that December.

Between January 2010 and January 2013, IWB's average chargeback rate exceeded 20 percent, the FTC said. And over the three-and-a-half year processing period, IWB's monthly chargeback rate exceeded 40 percent multiple times, according to the FTC. "Throughout the time period that IRN processed for IWB, IRN received thousands of copies of chargeback disputes initiated by dissatisfied consumers," the FTC stated.

The federal agency also concluded that IRN was aware of other red flags associated with IWB, including a November 2010 investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office and multiple fraud alerts raised by the card brands.

The FTC said, "IRN was aware since at least November 2010 that MasterCard identified IWB as being in the highest fraud category – 'tier 3' or 'high fraud alert' – under MasterCard's fraud control program because of IWB's number of fraudulent transactions, volume of fraudulent transactions, and ratio of fraud-to-dollar sales." And Discover Financial Services had also alerted IRN multiple times of potential fraud regarding IWB, the FTC added.

Additionally, the FTC said that before becoming IWB's processor, IRN reviewed the company's website, where IWB's debt reduction service is laid out. IRN had also been sent copies of such documents as IWB telemarketing scripts and samples of IWB's "financial plan," and had knowledge of IWB's F rating with the BBB, the FTC alleged.

"Rather than cease processing for the IWB defendants after the illegal nature of their business was apparent, IRN chose to continue profiting from processing IWB's credit card transactions," the FTC said.

A history of FTC scrutiny

Payment processors have often been the target of FTC actions over the last decade, all in connection with telemarketing firms. In 2003, the FTC took action against the Electronic Financial Group for using the automated clearing house network to help a telemarketer drain funds from U.S. consumers' checking accounts. In 2004, First American Processing Inc. and others were banned from processing payments for telemarketers that debited consumer accounts fraudulently.

In 2007, the FTC teamed with seven state attorneys general to charge Your Money Access LLC and others with enabling numerous telemarketers and online merchants to debit consumer accounts. In 2008, the FTC had the assets of Ira Rubin, and associated corporate entities managed collectively as Global Marketing Group, frozen for helping to facilitate a Canadian telemarketer in selling nonexistent credit cards to U.S. consumers.

In June 2009, InterBill Ltd. was fined $1,799,000 for processing payments for a phony enterprise known as "pharmacycards.com"; in 2005 another processor, Universal Processing Inc., was also charged by the FTC in the same fraudulent scheme. end of article

Editor's Note:

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