Northeast Times

Credit card scam is under control, says FTC

Jean Heller re­cieves some scam-re­lated doc­u­ments in the mail. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

Justice might be blind, but you can leave her a mes­sage.

People leav­ing mes­sages on a Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion hot line got some justice last month.

The FTC caught on to a Phil­adelphia-based bogus cred­it card scheme that tar­geted people with bad cred­it be­cause vic­tims beefed about it on the hot line, said Joan­nie Wei, an FTC at­tor­ney. They griped a lot, and the FTC not only put a stop to the scam, it got money back for vic­tims.

“We were scour­ing com­plaints,” Wei said in a phone in­ter­view Sept. 20. “And we saw a trend.”

And that trend was a par­tic­u­larly nasty one that cost vic­tims more than $7.5 mil­lion na­tion­wide. Com­pan­ies run by Justin Di­aczuk of Phil­adelphia, and Mont­gomery County res­id­ents Blake and Chase Ru­bin preyed on “fin­an­cially strapped con­sumers,” ac­cord­ing to an FTC news re­lease.

BASES ARE COVERED

From two bases in Jen­k­in­town and one on Michen­er Street in Bustleton, the trio would mar­ket their Plat­in­um Trust Cards and Ex­press Plat­in­um Cards to people who had ap­plied on­line for high-cost “pay­day loans,” Wei said. Such loans usu­ally are sought by people with lousy cred­it. People who can’t get cred­it “bor­row” against their paychecks. They can roll over the loans if they can’t pay or need more money.

A $100 loan can cost someone $900, Wei said.

Di­aczuk and the oth­er men told their vic­tims they could im­prove their cred­it stand­ings by pay­ing a $99 up­front fee and $19 a month for a cred­it card that could be used any­where Visa, Mas­ter­Card or Amer­ic­an Ex­press cards are ac­cep­ted.

That wasn’t true, Wei said, and that kind of ly­ing is against fed­er­al law.

The cards were val­id only at an on­line store, op­er­ated by the three men, that sold over­priced off-brand products, but the cards were worth­less every­where else, the FTC charged in a Janu­ary fed­er­al com­plaint. The men also il­leg­ally deb­ited their vic­tims’ bank ac­counts, the FTC charged.

Wei said the scam had been op­er­at­ing since 2009. The FTC got an in­junc­tion to stop the three earli­er this year, and in late Septem­ber ob­tained an or­der from a fed­er­al court in Illinois that per­man­ently bans the men and their com­pan­ies, Apo­gee One En­ter­prises LLC and Mar­quee Mar­ket­ing LLC, from tele­market­ing and cred­it card mar­ket­ing.

“And the coolest thing about this is we ac­tu­ally got money back,” Wei said.

The $7.5 mil­lion the de­fend­ants took from about 70,000 vic­tims has to be re­paid, the FTC re­lease stated. Many times, there is no money to get back, Wei said, be­cause scam per­pet­rat­ors spend it.

So, a scheme was stopped and money was re­covered be­cause people didn’t just si­lently eat their losses; they beefed.

COM­PLAIN! COM­PLAIN! COM­PLAIN!

An East Tor­res­dale wo­man called 877-FTC-HELP in Septem­ber after she got a couple of mail­ings of­fer­ing $100 in re­bates.

She said her hus­band called a num­ber lis­ted on one of the of­fers and he was told by “the sweetest-sound­ing wo­man in the world” that he had to give her a cred­it card num­ber to pay for about $3 in mail­ing charges to take ad­vant­age of the of­fer.

“And like a damn fool, I gave it to her,” the wo­man’s hus­band said.

That wasn’t all. While the man was on the phone, he was so­li­cited to buy products sight un­seen that he was told he could re­turn if he didn’t want them. That’s when it all star­ted to sound sour to him.

He said he didn’t swal­low any more of the pitch than he already had, and with­in a day, the couple can­celed their cred­it card. The com­pany that had is­sued their card told them no new charges had been lis­ted.

That’s when the lady of the house called the FTC and the North­east Times to tell her story.

Two weeks ago, the Times re­por­ted how com­mon scams are na­tion­wide and how they cost Amer­ic­ans mil­lions of dol­lars each year. Con artists of­fer­ing deals big and small or prize win­nings in the mails, on­line or over the phone are vic­tim­iz­ing about 1 in 10 U.S. cit­izens, the FTC es­tim­ated.

One wrinkle in the schemes is that people who have His­pan­ic sur­names are tar­geted.

A Castor Gar­dens res­id­ent who also had read Be­ware the scam slam in the Sept. 19 North­east Times said she got a call from someone who said she had won $850,000. She has a His­pan­ic sur­name, she said. Her hus­band is Cuban.

She was told she had to pay taxes on her prize be­fore she could claim it and that she should go to her loc­al CVS story, buy a $400 pre­paid deb­it card and call an Ontario, Canada, phone line and re­cite the card’s num­bers.

The taxes, CVS and pre­paid deb­it card ele­ments are the same that were re­por­ted last week.

That res­id­ent and oth­ers in­ter­viewed didn’t fall for the lines they were handed, but many people do, the FTC re­ports, and that’s why every­body should be care­ful about what they tell strangers who call with won­der­ful news about sweepstakes, spe­cial of­fers and oth­er bon­an­zas from thin air.

A Holme Circle wo­man was an­oth­er who didn’t bite, al­though the bait was dangled per­sist­ently and per­suas­ively.

On Ju­ly 20, the wo­man was called 12 times in one day by a man with a heavy Ja­maic­an ac­cent who told her she had won a $1.5 mil­lion sweepstakes prize. He told her his name was John Baker.

“He even gave me a claim num­ber,” she said. “He was very con­vin­cing. If I didn’t know about scams, I prob­ably would’ve fallen for it.”

She didn’t go for it, but he kept try­ing to get her to buy a pre­paid deb­it card for $899 and give him the card’s num­bers. Baker told the wo­man a team was stand­ing by at Ashton and Wil­lits roads to get word to bring her the win­nings.

The wo­man called po­lice. She said an of­ficer came to her house and spoke to the man when he called again.

“He iden­ti­fied him­self as a po­lice of­ficer three times” be­fore the man gave up, the wo­man said. ••End­Frag­ment 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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