Victoria-based RevenueWire and its chief executive, Bobbi Leach, have agreed to pay $6.75 million US to settle charges the company facilitated online tech support scams and laundered credit card payments for the companies that carried out those scams.
The deal comes after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit alleging RevenueWire played a key role in computer tech support scams perpetrated by call centres operated by Vast Tech Support and Inbound Call Experts dating back to 2011.
Leach, who has been with RevenueWire since 2010, could not be reached for comment Friday, nor could RevenueWire co-founder Elton Pereira.
Rajiv Gandhi, RevenueWire’s Canadian legal counsel, said the company is not in a position to make a substantive comment about the allegations made by the FTC.
“RevenueWire does not admit these allegations but, rather than incur significant expense, made a business decision to accept the settlement required by the FTC,” he said. “RevenueWire, its CEO, and employees strive to operate in a manner that is both ethical and consistent with good business practices, and its current operations are not impacted by six-year-old allegations relating to past RevenueWire customers.”
The FTC settled separate lawsuits in 2016 with both Vast and Inbound Call Experts.
Those two companies were alleged to have used tech-support scams to bilk consumers out of millions of dollars.
The scams used software that was designed to trick consumers into thinking there were problems with their computers. The consumers were then subjected to high-pressure and deceptive sales pitches for tech-support products and services to fix non-existent computer problems.
The FTC said RevenueWire, which offers payment-processing services, used its merchant accounts to process credit-card charges and collect payments from consumers on behalf of Vast and Inbound Call Experts.
“Finding ways to get paid, without getting caught, is essential for scammers who steal money from consumers,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau for Consumer Protection. “And that’s exactly what RevenueWire did for tech-support scammers when it laundered their transactions through the credit-card system.”
The FTC alleged RevenueWire not only processed payments for the two companies, but also processed charges for lead generation that directed consumers to call Vast and Inbound Call Experts.
The FTC further asserted RevenueWire knew of the companies’ unlawful activity.
In court documents filed in Washington, D.C., the commission noted RevenueWire’s own fraud analyst warned, in emails to executives, that they were dealing with “a bunch of crooks” and that RevenueWire would be intrinsically associated with anything they did.
The FTC complaint also alleged RevenueWire itself undertook undercover calls to both companies and experienced firsthand the misrepresentations of Vast and Inbound Call Experts’ telemarketers, yet continued to provide payment-processing and lead-generation services.
In a statement released along with the settlement, FTC commissioner Christine Wilson said RevenueWire was “at the centre of the deceptive business model, and knew that the call centres and telemarketers were making deceptive statements.
“RevenueWire attempted to hide from its card networks the fact that it was submitting payments generated by call centres by coding those sales as software store sales instead of teleservices merchant sales,” she wrote. “Further, RevenueWire received complaints about the call centre partners from other business partners, received complaints from consumers about unauthorized billing, and conducted internal assessments of the call centre partners that identified fraud risks.”
On top of the $6.75 million US fine, RevenueWire is permanently banned from any further payment laundering or violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. That rule includes prohibiting misrepresentations, requires telemarketers to disclose specific material information and sets payment restrictions for the sale of certain goods and services.
RevenueWire will also be required to thoroughly screen and monitor high-risk clients to ensure those clients are not misleading consumers.
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