You'll be hearing less from the fictional "Rachel" — or one of her equally imaginary coworkers — at "Cardholder Services."
On Nov. 1, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had helped shut down five companies in Arizona and Florida that authorities say tricked consumers into paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on phony claims that they could lower credit card interest rates.
The FTC convinced federal courts to temporarily halt the operations of the firms.
All five are charged with misrepresenting themselves — that's a polite word for lying — to customers, in violation of the FTC Act, and with multiple violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule for misrepresenting their services, making illegal robocalls, collecting up-front fees and calling numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry, where consumers can opt out of cold calls from telemarketers.
Sometimes these illegal fees reached an astounding $3,000.
"At the FTC, Rachel from Cardholder Services is public enemy No. 1," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.
"Cardholder Services" is a name designed to sound like a credit card firm department, but none of these companies are affiliated with your cards.
Rachel has been a frequent caller at our house. I always hang up on her.
If I'd followed the menu, though, I could have pressed 1 to have a live (but likely miserably underemployed) telemarketer talk me through deceptive offers to substantially reduce my credit card interest rates.
We pay our credit card bill in full every month, so card rates don't matter much to us.
If we cared, though, our ears would probably perk up at offers to pay 6.9% annual interest, or even 0% interest, in a market where 15% is a pretty standard credit card rate. If that were a real-world possibility, we would save money and pay off our balances faster, just as the telemarketers allegedly claimed.
I could have eagerly provided my financial and personal information, so the telemarketer could determine my "eligibility" for the program. According to the FTC's charges, determining "eligibility" in this case meant nothing more than checking that the customer has enough available credit on credit cards to pay the company's fee.
A friendly reminder: Your credit card company won't call you to ask for your card number. It already has that information.
These firms would probably have found me "eligible," so they would have told me about their program's up-front fee. That ranges from several hundred dollars to several thousand. Then they'd tell me that I'd offset the fee with the money I saved through their program.
Needless to say, the company would then do little or nothing to reduce my rates.
Some companies do initiate three-way telephone calls with customers' credit card companies and verbally request a lower rate. Big deal. You can make that request yourself and get at least the same results, if not better.
The calls offer the option of pressing 2 to be removed from the mailing list, but (if we believe the FTC) that actually was a dummy button. The companies even used a variety of spoofed phone numbers to trick caller ID, which made it more difficult to block or complain about the calls.
Sadly, these aren't the only robocalling scammers out there.
If you get calls from one of these fly-by-night companies, go to DoNotCall.gov and click on "file a complaint." You can also call 888-382-1222 to file a complaint with the FTC.
The five firms involved are Treasure Your Success, Ambrosia Web Design, A+ Financial Center, The Green Savers and Key One Solutions, all headquartered in Arizona or Florida.
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