Company offered $200 of "gas coupons" for $1.95 - but also made unauthorized charges of hundreds more dollars.
DES MOINES. A Las Vegas-based telemarketing operation has been prohibited from soliciting Iowa customers in any way to market its goods and services - and it is required to make refunds.
"They debited Iowans' bank accounts without their consent," said Attorney General Tom Miller. "Now they are barred from Iowa and must make refunds to anyone who asks for it."
Miller urged any Iowan to contact his office if they were the victim of an unauthorized withdrawal or billing by the companies. The legal action concerns Continuity Partners, Inc., a Nevada corporation owned and operated by Brian K. MacGregor, operating under names including CPI, American Values, U-Talk Unlimited, Wellnet, Blitz Media, and Washball.
"Consumers would receive a call saying they could get $200 worth of gasoline coupons for $1.95 in shipping and handling," Miller said. "They also were encouraged to try so-called free trial offers for other services or goods, such as a long-distance calling card. But, even if consumers explicitly rejected all other offers, unauthorized charges for hundreds of dollars showed up on their bank accounts. If that happened to you, be sure to complain and get a refund," Miller said.
"We encourage people to work though the Consumer Protection Division so we can monitor the companies' compliance," Miller said. (Go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org, and click on "protecting consumers," or call 515-281-5926.) Consumers also may ask the companies for refunds.
Miller's office received 11 complaints recently from Iowans about the tactics. "They all had very similar, bad experiences," he said. "They agreed to give their bank account number for the $1.95 payment to receive $200 in so-called gas coupons, but they rejected other offers. Nevertheless, unauthorized charges showed up on their bank or debit accounts. Then they had a very difficult time getting their money back. They got the run-around. In a couple cases, Iowans received refund checks that bounced and led to over-draft charges."
Now all but two of those consumers have received refunds, and Continuity Partners must pay refunds to any Iowan who requests it either directly or through the Attorney General. The companies must make refunds under terms of a formal "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance" they entered with the Attorney General's Office. Federal agencies also have said they are investigating Continuity Partners companies.
Hallmarks that indicate people should check if they were cheated by the companies include: a call in recent months touting $200 of gas coupons for about $2, and any unauthorized withdrawals, especially by Continuity Partners, CPI, American Values, U-Talk Unlimited, Wellnet, Blitz Media, and Washball.
Miller's office said the so-called $200 of "gas coupons" appear to be of little or no practical value.
Tips for Avoiding Unauthorized Charges:
Miller advised consumers generally:
- Never give out bank account or credit card numbers over the phone if you didn't initiate the call to a reputable, known business. "Con-artists constantly try new stories to trick people into giving out their private financial and personal information," Miller said.
- Beware of so-called 'free trial offers,' especially those that ask you for private information.
- Check your accounts each month for unauthorized charges - your credit card and bank accounts, and even your phone bill. "It pays to be careful and vigilant - and certainly to complain if someone cheats you," Miller added.
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