A payment processor that allegedly helped a bogus discount club scheme debit tens of millions of dollars from consumers without authorization will have to pay $2.3 million and face a permanent ban from working with high-end customers. risk following a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit.
According to the FTC’s complaint in the case, which was first filed in 2017, iStream Financial Services and its senior executives, Kris Axberg and Richard Joachim, allegedly debited money from consumers seeking loans on salary or cash advances, but were signed up for a bogus coupon service and charged an upfront fee of up to nearly $100 plus up to $19.95 per month. Consumers were enrolled in the discount club program online and through outbound telemarketing.
The complaint alleged that 99.5% of consumers illegally charged for “discount clubs” never accessed any coupons, and that tens of thousands of them called the defendants to try to reverse the charges, while that thousands more disputed the fees directly with their banks.
“The order announced today prohibits iStream from processing high-risk payments and orders it to pay $2.3 million that can be used to reimburse defrauded consumers,” said Samuel Levine, director of the Bureau of FTC Consumer Protection. “Unfortunately, this amount represents a small fraction of the approximately $40 million in total losses suffered by consumers as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG. Without a legal solution to restore the FTC’s strongest authority to obtain refunds, these consumers, and millions more like them, cannot be cured.
Payment processors, like iStream, offer merchants the ability to obtain customer payments for products and services through electronic banking. According to the complaint, iStream, in conjunction with merchants, used a type of payment called a remotely created check (RCC) to withdraw money from consumer accounts, causing significant harm to hundreds of thousands of consumers, often those who could least afford to have funds unexpectedly taken from their accounts without authorization.
iStream, which processed all payments for the discount club from November 2010 to April 2016, consistently ignored the high return rates generated by discount club transactions, a red flag indicating illegal debit. According to the FTC’s complaint, iStream also ignored other indications of fraudulent activity, including the fact that the primary merchant client involved in the scheme from 2010 through September 2013 was EDebitPay, LLC, a company that had previously subject of previous enforcement actions by the FTC for engaging in very similar misconduct.
Under the proposed settlement order, defendants will be permanently prohibited from using any form of remotely created payment orders, including RCCs, as well as from processing payments on behalf of any customer whose activity involves outbound telemarketing, discount clubs or offers to help consumers. with payday loans. The order will also prohibit the defendants from providing payment services to any customer that the defendants know or should know violates the FTC Act or the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
The order will require the defendants to conduct a thorough screening of all of their existing customers as well as all future customers to ensure that the customers do not violate FTC or TSR law.
The FTC’s case against the other defendants in the case, including the merchants operating the discount club system, is ongoing.
The Commission’s vote approving the stipulated final order was 4-0. The FTC filed the draft order in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
REMARK: The stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the judge of the district court.