The Federal Trade Commission has announced a crackdown on three companies at the center of millions of robocalls made across the country, claiming to be able to lower consumers’ credit card interest rates — for a fee, of course.
Never heard of a robocall? You’ve probably gotten one. They are automated calls used by telemarketers, debt collectors and debt settlement companies to reach a large number of people without using human labor to actually dial the numbers.
According to the FTC, the three telemarketing companies charged as much as $1,495 in upfront fees for their services and, annoyingly, called people whose names were on the national ‘Do Not Call’ list.
When I saw the FTC’s press release on the lawsuits filed to stop the calls, I flashed back to a bizarre call I got a couple of months ago on my cell phone.
A recording greeted me with a message along the lines of: “I have important information about your credit card account. You can lower the interest rate on one or more of your credit card accounts. Press “1” for more information.”
I was in my car at the time I got the call and had just pulled into my garage. Since I’m hypersensitive to anything related to credit cards (duh, I write for CreditCards.com), I pressed a button to speak to a real live person. A woman came on the line and started asking if I needed my interest rates lowered. I said they were already low. Then, I asked: “How did you get my number?” They were clearly not from one of the my credit card issuers. She claimed she got it from my card issuers, but I didn’t believe her. I said thanks but no thanks to her offer and the call ended.
“The FTC has heard the public outcry against robocalls and has taken swift action to stop them. During these difficult economic times, the last thing anyone needs is to be bombarded by robocalls pitching worthless interest-rate reduction programs,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in the press release. “The lawsuits announced today are not the first, nor will they be the last, that the agency brings to protect consumers from intrusive, illegal, and deceptive telemarketing robocalls.”
According to the FTC, virtually all robocalls conducted since Sept. 1, 2009, are illegal unless the telemarketers got advance, written approval from recipients to receive pre-record calls.
The companies facing federal suits are: Economic Relief Technologies, LLC, Dynamic Financial Group (U.S.A.) Inc., and JPM Accelerated Services (JPM). The FTC alleges the companies made pre-recorded robocalls to consumers, claiming to be from “card services,” “credit card services” or “account services.”
Yep. That’s what happened to me. They appeared to be from a legitimate credit card company’s card services division.
Unfortunately, consumers who fell into the deceptive trap laid open by the scheme never got refunds of the $495 to $1,495 they shelled out for services.
“After securing the fee, the defendants allegedly did not negotiate lower rates on behalf of consumers and provided few refunds to those who were dissatisfied with the service,” according to the FTC.
Here’s how the feds say the companies violated consumer laws:
- Calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Calling consumers who had previously asked not to be called.
- Failing to transmit their caller ID information, as required.
- “Spoofing” or masking their caller ID information.
- Failing to promptly identify themselves, the purpose of their call, and/or the nature of the goods or services they were selling.
- Improperly abandoning calls.
- Failing to make required disclosures in their robocalls.
Now, think about it. Would your credit card company call you specifically to lower your interest rate? That’s like taking money out of their coffers at a time when banks are hurting for money. Sure, some customers are getting lower interest rates. Those are the prime customers or those generating a lot of revenue for the issuers.
If you want your credit card interest rate lowered, contact your issuer yourself, make a reasoned pitch for why your rates should be lowered and see what happens.
See related: What part of ‘do not call’ don’t you understand?