FTC launches telemarketing crackdown

May 20, 2008 3:44:17 PM PDT
The Federal Trade Commission has launched its largest crackdown ever on telemarketing fraud. The FTC and more than 30 government agencies are targeting phone marketing companies accused of cheating consumers out of millions of dollars.

The crackdown involves more than a dozen telemarketing companies.

The FTC is also launching a new resource for consumers who believe they've fallen victim to telemarketing fraud.

Eighty-two-year-old Amy Shrunk is out of her element in Chicago. But she's made the trip to the city twice in the last few months to help the FTC. The retiree from North Liberty, Indiana, was among thousands approached by alleged fraudulent telemarketers.

"They said that they would help me with my insurance and my medical because they said they had all my medical records. And I told them that I didn't need it," she said.

Union Consumer Benefits claimed to offer health insurance benefits. They even sent her a card to use at her pharmacy. The FTC suspects Union Consumer Benefits had gotten Shrunk's checking account from a third party and was able to withdraw $399 without her consent. Shrunk's daughter-in-law stepped in to help.

"Just very frustrating to me that they could do this to anyone and that we had to keep chasing them down," said Janet O'Blenis, Shrunk's Daughter-in-law.

The FTC in Chicago filed a lawsuit against Union Consumer Benefits after seeing a pattern of fraud complaints.

"Consumer Benefits is a Canadian operation out of Montréal. We believe some of their callers are from India. They call people, and the main effort is to get people's checking account numbers," said Steve Baker, FTC.

Today's announcement in Chicago is part of a federal sweep of telemarketing companies. The FTC reports more than a half a million customers were defrauded out of more than $100 million by 13 companies.

"American consumers and indeed consumers all over the world will be made wiser and more careful. And simply reject efforts to separate them from their hard-earned wealth," said William Kovacis, FTC chairman.

Federal officials say there are some companies who sell account information illegally and with that information fraudulent telemarketers try to get your approval by phone to withdraw the money. The FTC urges consumers to file reports of fraud.

ABC7 attempted to contact Union Consumer Benefits in Montréal and could not locate such a company.

For more information visit: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/phonefraud/index.shtml

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