FTC Disconnects Pointbreak Media Robocall Scheme Defendants

Callers falsely claimed company represented Google, sought fees between $300 and $700 for first-page placement in online search results listings

At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court in Florida granted summary judgment against two individuals, approved six settlement agreements involving 11 defendants, and entered a default judgment against the remaining seven defendants, officially ending the massive Pointbreak Media robocall scheme.

In May 2018, the FTC charged the Florida-based defendants with operating a telemarketing scam that targeted small business owners with false threats of removal from Google’s search engine and false promises of unique keywords to make the business appear prominently in search results. The FTC also alleged the defendants wrote themselves $100 checks from over 250 businesses’ checking accounts without the business owners’ advance knowledge, consent, or authorization.

The FTC amended its complaint in July 2018 to add two counts for violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, because the defendants robocalled more than 74 million consumers and called more than 14 million numbers on the national Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. The summary judgment and other court orders announced today ban the defendants from such illegal robocalling and direct the scheme’s main perpetrators, Dustin Pillonato and Justin Ramsey, to pay over $3.3 million.

The Actions Announced Today

The stipulated court orders and judgments the FTC obtained are part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to combat the scourge of illegal robocalls. The court entered judgments against Pillonato and Ramsey, as well as a default judgment against Aaron Michael Jones, Vincent Yates, Pointbreak Media, LLC, DCP Marketing, LLC, Modern Source Media, LLC, National Business Listings, LLC, and AllStar Data, LLC. The judge also approved settlements with Daniel Carver, relief defendant Stephanie Watt, and relief defendant Jennefer Ramsey.

The court found the primary perpetrators of the scheme, Pillonato and Ramsey, liable for each count the FTC alleged. The order bans them from: 1) telemarketing; 2) using remotely created checks to debit consumers’ accounts; and 3) marketing, promoting, or selling search optimization products or services. The order prohibits Pillonato and Ramsey from misrepresenting their affiliation with Google or any other entity, and prohibits them from misrepresenting any other facts material to a consumer’s purchase of any good or service. The court further ordered Pillonato and Ramsey to pay $3,367,666.30 and transfer custody of dozens of pieces of jewelry to the FTC. The FTC may use these assets to provide refunds to affected businesses.

The order against Jones and several defaulting defendants includes the same conduct relief as imposed on Pillonato and Ramsey. It also bans Yates and the defaulting corporate defendants from robocalling and calling numbers on the DNC Registry. The order also imposes non-suspended judgments of $2,351,670.81 against Jones, a recidivist robocaller, $1,917,073.87 against Yates, and $3,367,666.30 against the defaulting corporate defendants.

The order against Carver permanently bans him from robocalling and calling numbers on the DNC Registry, as well as requiring specific disclosures to consumers in any other telemarketing he does. It prohibits misrepresentations and imposes a $2,461,626.12 judgment, which will be partially suspended after he surrenders a 2016 Lexus RX 350 SUV. Finally, the orders against relief defendants Watt and Jennefer Ramsey impose judgments of $62,279 and $52,321, respectively, against them. The judgment against Watt will be partially suspended upon payment of $20,000.

Case History

In May 2018, the FTC charged the Florida-based Pointbreak Media scheme operators with violations of the FTC Act for deceiving small business owners by falsely claiming to represent Google, falsely threatening businesses with removal from Google search results, falsely claiming that they could associate keywords with these businesses, and falsely promising first-place or first-page placement in Google search results.

The FTC’s complaint alleged the defendants had no relationship with Google, yet claimed to be “data service providers” for the company or “authorized Google My Business agencies.” The defendants also barraged small business owners with robocalls. The company’s telemarketers falsely told small business owners that the consumer’s business could only avoid removal from Google search results by paying the defendants a one-time fee of between $300 and $700. Otherwise, they said these businesses would be labeled “permanently closed.”

In March 2019, the following defendants entered into settlement agreements resolving the charges against them in the FTC’s amended complaint: 1) Michael Pocker, Modern Spotlight LLC, Modern Spotlight Group LLC, and Modern Internet Marketing LLC; 2) Steffan Molina, Perfect Image Online LLC, and Pinnacle Presence LLC; and 3) Ricardo Diaz. The settlements contain both injunctive and monetary relief, and are intended to remedy the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint. The court has now entered each of these orders as final. The actions announced today resolve the FTC’s charges against all remaining defendants in this case.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Former IRS Employee Convicted of Tax Evasion

A federal jury in Las Vegas, Nevada, yesterday convicted Craig P. Orrock, a former attorney and former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee, of tax evasion and obstructing the internal revenue laws, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada, and Special Agent in Charge Tara Sullivan of IRS-Criminal Investigation.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, starting in the early 1990s, Orrock, currently of Sandy, Utah, evaded the payment of his federal income taxes and obstructed IRS efforts to collect those taxes. Orrock filed federal individual income tax returns for the years 1993 through 2015, but failed to pay the income taxes reported as due. He attempted to prevent the IRS from collecting the reported income taxes through the use of nominee entities, bank accounts and trusts to hide his income and assets from IRS collection officers. Orrock attempted to evade the assessment of a large part of the income tax he owed for 2007, by concealing from the IRS both the ownership of real estate he held through a nominee known as Arville Properties LLC as well as the proceeds from the sale of the property. 

From 1993 through 2015, Orrock evaded the payment of over $500,000 in federal income taxes.

Orrock faces up to five years in prison on each of the first two counts and up to three years in prison on the third count, as well as a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 26.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman and U.S. Attorney Trutanich commended special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, who conducted the investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Burns and Tax Division Trial Attorney Erin S. Mellen, who are prosecuting the case.

This article by the Department of Justice was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

8 Affordable Alternatives to Cable in 2019

How can I find my favorite TV show… tonight?  For those of us currently paying for a cable TV connection, the answer is simple: turn on the TV, scroll through the dozens of simultaneously available channels, and select the perfect show. Now, sit back, relax and try not to think about the cost of such a luxury. Of course, there might just be a better way to access those same shows for a fraction of the cost while gaining more control over your finances. If you’re ready to embark on a quest for more affordable entertainment, then take a look at these ways to slash your cable bill in half, or get rid of it completely.

Cable Alternatives

TV streaming services are changing the way people watch their favorite shows and news programs. Harnessing the power of the internet, and the fact that few American homes seem to be without it, these streaming companies are able to put dozens of quality TV channels at your fingertips for a more affordable price than standard cable companies. In addition, instead of paying up front and being stuck in a year-long contract, these sites allow you to cancel, upgrade, or change your settings on a month-by-month basis. Check out these 3 companies and what they have to offer.

  • DIRECTV Now  – The starter package gives you access to 40+ channel for $50/ month. Channels include news outlets like MSNBC, FOX and ABC, as well as entertainment networks such as Disney, HBO, and the Hallmark channel. They also seem to have access to newer channels not included in other competitors’ packages.
  • Hulu Live TV  – A big competitor with Netflix in the movie streaming industry, Hulu also supports a Live TV option. For $45/month, Hulu Live TV gives you access to 60 channels and thousands of movies and episodes on 2 screens. (Add- free content requires an additional $6/month)
  • USTV Now – This site provides streaming of movies and TV programming from at least 25 major stations. Plans range from $40/month for 25 HD channels (with DVR capabilities) all the way down to 5 SD channels…. for free. Which leads us to the next category of alternatives.
Alternatives to Cable TV - Old TV

Free Streaming Sites

 Living in the 21st century, we’ve never had so many ways to instantly access so much entertainment. Now, some companies are teaming up with advertisers to allow those shows and movies to be viewed for free. If you don’t mind random but shorts ads throughout your viewing, then these options are worth a try. Here are 2 of the best platforms that give you access to hundreds of shows, live broadcasts, and movies…. all at zero cost to you.

  • Pluto TV – With 75+ channels as well as hundreds of movies to stream to your desktop, smartphone or tablet, Pluto TV has a lot to offer. Access is completely free ( with ads, of course) and no sign up is required.
  • Tubi TV – As an ad-supported platform with no premium features, what you see is what you get with Tubi TV. Thankfully, there is a lot to see. On the website, you can browse through 40+ categories like Anime, Classics, New Releases and Not On Netflix to find the film you need.

Thinking outside the box

 If you find ads annoying, or you’re simply looking for something different, here are 3 more creative options to help you achieve entertainment freedom.

  • Network Websites – Do you have a favorite channel or network? Consider going to their official website and streaming material for free to your desktop or tablet.  Better yet, you can use an application like Google Chromecast to quickly connect to your smart TV and watch the game on the big screen.
  • Hoopla  – Available to anyone with a current library account, Hoopla gives you access to movies and TV shows, as well as audiobooks and ebooks. While the website doesn’t provide live programming, numerous seasons of TV shows and hundreds of movies are available. Titles are borrowed and returned via the website or mobile app.
  • Digital TV Antenna – This last one is a real find. By investing $40-$50 in a digital TV antenna, you can immediately have access to scores of digitally broadcasted TV stations. (Purchasing a TV converter box might be necessary if you have an older TV)  After this one-time investment, you’ll be watching high-quality television with no contracts, no accounts and no fees. Not all networks broadcast digitally, so you’ll want to find the best antenna for your location.

Counting the Cost & Cutting the Cable  

Now that you’re familiar with some of the great viewing options out there, you’re almost ready to take the plunge. Before you call that cable company, I’d recommend doing some extra research on your own to find out which option (or combination) is best for you. Then, relax and have fun experiencing some more-affordable entertainment.

This article by Kyle K first appeared on Ascend and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Files Suit Against Forster & Garbus, LLP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in the Eastern District of New York against Forster & Garbus, LLP, a New York debt-collection law firm.

The Bureau’s complaint alleges that Forster & Garbus violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by representing to consumers that attorneys were meaningfully involved in its lawsuits when, in fact, attorneys were not meaningfully involved in preparing or filing them. The Bureau’s complaint also alleges that Forster & Garbus violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against deceptive acts and practices by making such representations to consumers through its lawsuits. 

The Bureau’s complaint seeks an injunction against Forster & Garbus, as well as damages, redress to consumers, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and the imposition of a civil money penalty.

A copy of the complaint filed in federal district court in the Eastern District of New York is available here.

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Put the Brakes on Phony Online Car Sales

You can buy practically anything online, including used cars. But before you shell out any hard-earned cash, here’s a warning about scammers trying to sell cars they don’t have or own.

Here’s how the scam works: Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors, for inexpensive used cars (that they don’t really own). They offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program. Recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year alone.

So how can you tell if an online car sale is fake?

  • You find bad reviews online. Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • Sellers try to rush the sale. Resist the pressure. Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy without thinking things through.
  • They can’t or won’t meet in person or let you inspect the car. Scammers might have an excuse, like a job transfer, military deployment, or divorce, for why you can’t see them or the car. But experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it.
  • They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
  • The sellers demand more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re interested in. A vehicle history report can help you spot such discrepancies.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Settles with Student CU Connect CUSO over ITT Private Loan Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) recently announced a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, LLC (CUSO), a company set up to hold and manage private loans for students at ITT Technical Institute. 

The Bureau filed a complaint and a proposed stipulated judgment in federal district court for the Southern District of Indiana alleging that CUSO provided substantial assistance to ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT) in engaging in unfair acts and practices. ITT operated ITT Technical Institute until it filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2016. The Bureau’s complaint alleges that CUSO was actively involved in the creation and the implementation of the CUSO loan program. The complaint alleges that ITT induced its students to take out the loans by a variety of means, and that CUSO knew or was reckless in not knowing that many student borrowers did not understand the terms and conditions of the CUSO loans and could not afford them.

Under the terms of the proposed stipulated judgment, CUSO must stop collecting on all outstanding CUSO loans, discharge all outstanding CUSO loans, and ask all consumer reporting agencies to which CUSO furnished information to delete tradelines relating to CUSO loans. The order also requires CUSO to provide notice to all consumers with outstanding CUSO loans that their debt has been discharged and is no longer owed and that CUSO is seeking to have the relevant tradelines deleted. The total amount of loan forgiveness is currently estimated to be $168 million.

Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia have also settled with CUSO today on the same terms.

The CFPB complaint is available at: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_student-CU-connect-cuso-llc_complaint_2019-06.pdf

The CFPB proposed stipulated judgment is available at: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_student-CU-connect-cuso-llc_proposed-stipulated-judgment_2019-06.pdf

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Your right to post honest reviews

Whether your summer plans include replacing your air conditioning, installing new flooring, or riding the range, you will probably read customer reviews to learn what people say about their experiences with a business or product. Shoppers benefit from knowing what others have to say, and the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) protects people’s ability to share their truthful experiences and opinions.

The FTC enforces the CRFA and recently sued three businesses (and two of their owners) for violating that law. According to the FTC, the companies used form contracts that barred customers from sharing negative comments and that imposed financial penalties against customers who did so. Under proposed agreements with the FTC, the businesses — including an HVAC and electrical contractor, a flooring seller, and a company that takes people on horseback rides — will stop using, and will not enforce, those contract provisions. They will also inform people who signed the contracts that the provisions can’t be enforced.

The CRFA protects your ability to share your honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct in any forum, including social media. You can publish your honest review even if you say something negative about a business or the services it performed for you. If you have a signed form contract that restricts you from sharing reviews or penalizes you for doing that, the business may not be able to enforce those restrictions. If a business tries to enforce a restriction or penalty, let the business know about the CRFA, and please report it to the FTC or your state consumer protection agency.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Avoid Crowdfunding Scams

Crowdfunding is one way to support a project you believe in and get rewards for that support. But the project you’re backing is only as good as the people behind it. Some dishonest people can take your money but produce nothing – no product, no project, and no reward.

Here’s how crowdfunding works: People called “creators” ask for small amounts of money from lots of people to fund projects through websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. In exchange, creators offer rewards to contributors, like a product that the creators are trying to make. Sounds great…unless the creators don’t create anything but profit for themselves.

In its lawsuit against iBackPack, the FTC says people shelled out over $800,000 via crowdfunding campaigns. The company said those funds would help it provide consumers with backpacks and shoulder bags with built-in batteries for charging mobile devices. But, according to the FTC, iBackPack’s claims that bags would soon be going out to consumers were lies. What’s more, the FTC’s investigation found that the money the creators took in from their campaigns generally didn’t go toward what they said it would. Instead, the FTC says, iBackPack’s CEO pocketed a large part of the funds for his own personal use. And when people began to complain, the CEO allegedly threatened some of them – adding that he knew their addresses and other personal information.

If you’re thinking about contributing to a crowdfunding campaign, take a minute to research the creator’s background and reviews before you pay. For example, has the creator engaged in previous campaigns? How did those campaigns turn out?

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Parental Advisory: Dating Apps

Parents be warned: some dating apps – like FastMeet, Meet24 and Meet4U – allow adults to find and communicate with children. Concerned parents should remove these apps if they’re on children’s devices. You also can set your kids’ devices so they must get parental approval before purchasing any new apps. Here are a few more things you should know.

FastMeet, Meet24 and Meet4U let children create public dating profiles. So, adults can use these apps to connect with children. If that’s not scary enough, the apps collect users’ real-time location data. In other words, adults – including sexual predators – can search by age and location to identify children nearby.

The FTC recently issued a warning letter to Wildec, LLC, the Ukraine-based maker of the three apps, because the company appears to be violating both the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the FTC Act. COPPA requires app providers to give notice and get consent from parents before collecting or sharing any personal information about children under age 13, and the FTC Act prohibits unfair acts or practices. As the FTC’s letter states, “the ability to identify and communicate with children – even those over age 13 – poses a significant risk to children’s health and safety.”

As of May 3, 2019, Apple and Google Play have removed FastMeet, Meet24, and Meet4U from their stores, although it’s possible that updated versions of these apps could appear in the future – but only for adults. To find information on how to delete existing versions of these apps, go to Apple’s website (for iPhones) or Google’s website (for Android phones).

For help talking with your kids about online safety, check out Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids about Being Online. To learn more about your COPPA rights, read the FTC’s Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Online. And, if you think a company has violated your COPPA rights, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Get a One-Ring Call? Don’t Call Back.

A while back, we warned you about the “one ring” scam. That’s when you get a phone call from a number you don’t know, and the call stops after just one ring. The scammer is hoping you’ll call back, because it’s really an international toll number and will appear as a charge on your phone bill — with most of the money going to the scammer. Well, the scam is back with a vengeance, and the FCC just issued a new advisory about it. Read the FCC’s advisory for more detail, but the advice from both agencies remains the same if you get one of these calls:

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.