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SAN DIEGO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced he has filed a lawsuit against three California telemarketers for selling consumers fraudulent services to recover unclaimed property and provide pre-approved credit cards.
The complaint, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, also alleges the defendants obtained consumers' social security numbers, dates of birth, mother's maiden names and bank account information, all of which could be used to commit identity theft.
"The perpetrators of this scam not only ripped off consumers, they obtained information that allowed them to steal victims' identities," said Lockyer. "The defendants violated 18 separate state and federal laws. But it all boils down to this: They lied and cheated, and we're going to make sure they pay for it."
The complaint asks the court to impose at least $2 million in civil penalties on the defendants, and to permanently prohibit them from engaging in the alleged unlawful conduct.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated state laws that prohibit false advertising, and deceptive business and contracting practices, as well as statutes that restrict dissemination of pre-recorded phone messages and regulate credit service providers. The defendants also violated federal statutes that prohibit mail fraud and artificial or pre-recorded phone messages initiated without the recipient's prior approval, according to the complaint.
The defendants include Robert Barrere and Debra Millward of San Diego and California resident Ronald Steger. They have conducted business in the state using names such as Unclaimed Property Center, Asset Recovery Group, AMS Financial Services, Financial Resource Network and First National Trust Services, among others. The defendants have sold the fraudulent asset recovery and credit card services to consumers in California and throughout the United States.
In both telemarketing scams, the defendants used auto-dialing equipment to deliver pre-recorded messages and live solicitations to consumers.
In the asset recovery scheme, the complaint alleges, an unidentified speaker tells recipients they have more than $500 or $600 in unclaimed money, property or other assets. The message directs consumers to contact the "claims department" to retrieve their property. When consumers call the number provided for the claims department, another recorded message tells them that in order to collect their property, they must send a "retrieval fee" ranging from $25 to $99 to a certain address.
The complaint alleges that in return for the fee, the defendants ask some consumers to complete a form which requires them to disclose personal information. No consumer has been provided any of the advertised asset recovery. The defendants have given some consumers casino vouchers valued at $500 or $600, but the vouchers are not redeemable for cash.
In the credit card scam, the complaint alleges the defendants mislead consumers by telling them they have been pre-approved to receive a Visa or MasterCard credit card. Further, the defendants falsely tell consumers their card will have a guaranteed credit limit – in some cases as high as $10,000 – regardless of consumers' credit history.
The initial, pre-recorded solicitation instructs consumers to call a certain number to obtain their credit card. When consumers call that number, they are told to provide their bank's name, their bank account number, the next check number and their bank routing number. During this call, the defendants also tell consumers they will receive their card by paying a one-time "membership fee," which will be deducted from their bank account. The complaint alleges the defendants do not provide consumers credit cards in exchange for the membership fee. Further, the defendants continue to deduct the membership fee from consumers' bank accounts, even though the defendants provide no membership services.
Consumers who believe they have been victimized by fraud or other unlawful business practices can file a complaint online at the Attorney General's web site, http://www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/mailform.htm. Consumers can get free information on unclaimed assets in most states by visiting the web site for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators at www.unclaimed.org.