A federal judge has ordered the two main perpetrators of what the Federal Trade Commission calls the “massive Pointbreak Media robocall scheme,” part of which involved remotely created checks, to pay $3.37 million to the FTC, the agency announced this week.
U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in Miami approved six settlement agreements involving 11 defendants, and entered a default judgment against seven remaining defendants involved in the scam, according to a news release. The actions end what the FTC said was an investigation involving several telemarketing firms that robocalled more than 74 million consumers and called more than 14 million numbers on the FTC’s national Do Not Call Registry.
The FTC a year ago charged the Florida-based defendants with targeting small-business owners with false threats of removal from Google’s search engine and false promises of unique keywords to make the businesses appear prominently in search results. The FTC said the callers falsely claimed they represented Google and sought fees of $300 to $700 for first-page listings on search results.
The FTC also alleged the main telemarketing firm cited in the scam, Pointbreak Media LLC, based in the Boca Raton, Fla. area, wrote itself $100 in remotely created checks from at least 280 businesses’ checking accounts without the business owners’ knowledge or consent, according to a court filing. That happened a few days after Pointbreak lost its merchant account from Bank of America Merchant Services in October 2017. Pointbreak had allowed another defendant company, Modern Spotlight, to use its merchant account for a short time in exchange for 30% of the fees it generated on sales, the filing says.
Remotely created checks, or RCCs, enable the payee to write a check on the payor’s account after initial payor approval. They’re legal, but they are popular with fraudulent telemarketers.
The scheme’s main perpetrators, Dustin Pillonato and Justin Ramsey, the latter of whom the FTC called “a recidivist robocaller” named in other FTC lawsuits, with misrepresentation, false billing, and violations of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. They could not be reached for comment. Besides the payment to the FTC, the court order bans them from telemarketing, using RCCs, and marketing or promoting search-engine optimization services. The fine and jewelry the court also ordered them to turn over to the FTC may be used to pay refunds to affected businesses.