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.
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 defendants also kept calling consumers who asked them not to call again, regularly cold-called consumers whose phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry, and failed to pay fees for the Do Not Call Registry.
The complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and failing to pay for, or abide by, the rules of the Do Not Call Registry.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the federal court complaint against defendants Centro Natural Corp., Sumore, L.L.C., Carolina Orellana, Damian Biondi, Javier Sumbre, and Jessica Anzola, and relief defendant Bionore, Inc. was 5-0. The complaint 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.
NOTE: The Commission files 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 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.