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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC fines payment processor $2.3 million for helping online discount clubs bilk consumers

Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Payment Processors TSR FTC Act Consumer Finance Settlement

Federal Issues

On March 10, the FTC reached a settlement with a payment processing company and two senior officers (collectively, “defendants”) whereby the company would pay $2.3 million in restitution as part of their role in allegedly helping the operators of a group of marketing entities enroll consumers into online discount clubs and debit more than $40 million from consumers’ bank accounts for membership without their authorization. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC’s 2017 complaint claimed that the online discount clubs claimed to offer services to consumers in need of payday, cash advance, or installment loans, but instead enrolled consumers in a coupon service that charged initial fees ranging from $49.89 to $99.49, as well as monthly recurring fees of up to $19.95. However, the FTC’s complaint stated that “99.5 percent of the consumers being illegally charged for the ‘discount clubs’ never accessed any coupons, and that tens of thousands called the defendants to try and cancel the charges, while thousands more disputed the charges directly with their banks.” The FTC accused the defendants of providing “substantial assistance or support” in the way of payment processing services while “knowing or consciously avoiding knowing” that the actions being supported were in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The FTC further detailed how defendants ignored several indications of fraudulent activity, including the consistently high return rates generated by the discount club transactions and that a primary client of their services had already been the subject of previous FTC enforcement actions for engaging in similar conduct.

Under the terms of the settlement, which is pending court approval, the defendants are banned from, among other things, (i) processing remotely created payment orders; (ii) processing payments on behalf of clients whose business involves outbound telemarketing, discount clubs, or offers to help consumers with payday loans; (iii) processing payments on behalf of any client that the defendants know or should know is engaging in deceptive or unfair acts or practices or violating the TSR; and (iv) processing payments for any existing or prospective clients without first conducting a reasonable screening to ensure clients are not violating federal law.