Three companies that placed more than $30 million in bogus collect call charges on consumers’ telephone bills have agreed to pay $1.9 million for consumer redress in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that bars them from billing for unauthorized charges and misrepresenting that consumers are obligated to pay for them.
The FTC charged BSG Clearing Solutions North America, LLC, ACI Billing Services, Inc. d/b/a OAN, and Billing Concepts, Inc. (collectively, “BSG”) with placing charges on behalf of co-defendant Nationwide Connections, Inc. (see press releases dated March 15, 2006 and September 26, 2006). The three related companies control more than 85 percent of the billing aggregation market, in which aggregators contract with local telephone companies to bill on behalf of third parties. According to the FTC, BSG began receiving complaints from consumers soon after the Nationwide billing began, including complaints about charges for calls made to telephone lines dedicated to computers and fax machines, and to phones where no one was present.
The settlement would prohibit BSG from misrepresenting that consumers are obligated to pay for telecommunications charges that have not been expressly authorized. It also would be barred from billing or submitting any telecommunications charges for billing on a consumer’s telephone bill unless such charge has been expressly authorized. BSG would be in compliance with the proposed court order’s prohibitions against unauthorized billing if it takes all necessary steps before billing on behalf of new clients and while billing for existing clients to ensure it does not engage in the unauthorized billing of telecommunications charges. The settlement bars BSG from selling or renting consumers’ personal information obtained from Nationwide and requires BSG to create and maintain billing and consumer complaint records for eight years and submit various compliance reports to the FTC for five years.
In December 2007, the court entered a $34,426,696.85 judgment – the total amount that consumers paid for the phony charges – against Nationwide Connections, which a court-appointed receiver is winding down. The FTC has settled with Nationwide’s ringleader, defendant Willoughby Farr, with a $35 million judgment and a ban on all telephone billing (see press release dated March 5, 2008). The Commission’s case against The Billing Resource d/b/a Integretel, another billing aggregator in this massive cramming scheme, and its cases against three remaining individual defendants, are still pending.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the stipulated final order was 5-0. The order for permanent injunction will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
NOTE: This stipulated final order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.