FTC Brings Seventh Action in Three Months Against Debt Relief Companies

At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has temporarily shut down Innovative Wealth Builders, Inc. (IWB), which allegedly operated a credit card interest rate reduction scam, pending resolution of the FTC’s cases against the operation.  The case against IWB and its three owners is the seventh brought by the FTC in the past three months against telemarketers pitching allegedly phony debt relief services to financially distressed consumers who could least afford to lose money.

The FTC alleged in its complaint that since at least 2009, IWB cold-called consumers with credit card debt and pitched them a deceptive credit card interest rate reduction program.  According to the complaint, IWB’s telemarketers claimed IWB could substantially reduce the interest rates of consumers’ credit cards, save consumers thousands of dollars, and help them pay off their debts much faster.  IWB charged consumers between $500 and $2,000 with the promise that all fees would be returned to consumers if IWB failed to meet its promises.

According to the FTC, IWB did not actually obtain substantial reductions in consumers’ interest rates.  It did not save consumers thousands of dollars or help them pay off their debts more quickly.  Instead, the complaint alleges that IWB sent some consumers a so-called “financial plan” which included nothing more than a comparison between:  1) the total amount consumers would pay on their debts if they only paid the minimum monthly amount and 2) the total amount consumers would pay on their debts if they paid some amount greater than their monthly minimum payment.  IWB allegedly refused to return consumers’ money.  According to the FTC’s complaint, consumers were often further injured by subsequent unauthorized charges that IWB made to consumers’ credit card accounts.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting their credit card interest rate reduction services, misrepresenting its refund policy, and billing consumers without their authorization.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including by misrepresenting the debt relief service they were selling, charging a fee before providing debt relief services, and billing consumers without their express informed consent.

The complaint announced today was filed against Innovative Wealth Builders, Inc. and its owners, Carly Janene Pelland, also known as Carly Zurita; Tamara Dawn Johnson; and Sheryl Leigh Lopez.

The Commission, with Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch participating, voted 5-0 to authorize staff to file the complaint.  The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on January 14, 2013.  The court granted the FTC’s request for a temporary restraining order that same day.

The FTC would like to thank the Florida Attorney General’s Office for its investigative assistance and support.  The FTC also appreciates the assistance of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Pinellas County Department of Justice & Consumer Services, Florida Department of Financial Services and Better Business Bureau of West Florida, Inc. for their assistance in this case.

NOTE:  The Commission issues a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.  The issuance of a complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has violated the law.  The case will be decided by the court.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers 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, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.  Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

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