Two separate complaints diffused nearly decade-long operations

Curveball

Eight companies, including Lift International LLC and Thrive Learning LLC, their various dba companies and the seven individuals who controlled them, recently settled FTC charges that they fleeced thousands of consumers of millions of dollars through outlandish promises and false testimonials.

According to the FTC’s complaint filed in early June, from 2008 to early 2017, Lift International and Thrive Learning offered what they claimed was personalized business coaching services through a number of telemarketing companies. The coaching programs were aimed at consumers who wished to operate at-home Internet businesses.

Foul Practices

The FTC complaint charges defendants with using a variety of deceptive sales tactics to convince consumers to purchase the services. For example, the defendants allegedly promised consumers that they were likely to earn substantial income, when in fact, consumers who purchased the services were left with large debt, no viable business and no income. The FTC also alleged that the defendants falsely represented that their training programs were personalized and open only to qualified participants, which was not the case. Additionally, defendants represented that they needed consumers’ financial information to determine if consumers qualified which, according to the FTC, was not true. Consumers who took the bait were targeted with more sales calls to buy more purported business services, according to the FTC complaint.

The FTC also alleged that some of the defendants engaged in credit card factoring – an illegal practice where companies provide other entities with access to their merchant accounts, so that telemarketers that cannot obtain a merchant account can process sales.

Benched

The FTC’s complaints against the defendants charged that the companies’ practices violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. Faced with these suits, the defendants – a baffling array of interlocking business entities and individuals – chose to settle, agreeing to lifetime bans from selling similar services in the future. The final total settlement was $79.5 million for all defendants collectively. The full judgment was partially suspended due to an inability to pay. However, the defendants were ordered to immediately pay approximately $2.1 million and surrender certain assets. The judgment will become immediately enforceable in the event that defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

The Takeaway

Regulators like the FTC remain on the lookout for fraudulent telemarketing practices and will pursue violators to the fullest extent of the law. When these types of schemes are discovered, the marketers who ran them are often required to disgorge 100 percent of the profits earned, and in the most egregious cases, are banned from engaging in similar business activities in the future.