FTC assesses $28.2 Million in Fines for So-called Wal-Mart Shopping Spree Scam

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The Federal Trade Commission yesterday announced that it has ordered Membership Services Direct, Inc. (also known by other names) to pay $28.2 million to the FTC. The amount represents the net profits made by the company after engaging in a telemarketing scheme designed to bilk consumers of their money. Dubbed the Wal-Mart Shopping Spree Scam, the order also bars several of the company’s principles from engaging in deceptive practices in the future.

The original complaint, filed in federal court by the FTC in 2007, alleged that MSD made cold calls to consumers, falsely promising them shopping sprees at retail department stores like Wal-Mart and Macy’s. They also promised discount coupons, gas vouchers, and free movie tickets, if consumers joined a discount club. The ruse was designed to get unsuspecting customers to reveal their private bank account information, which MSD later used to directly debit the consumers accounts.

Practice Note: Consumers should be advised never to release their social security number or their bank account information over the phone. No reputable organization will ever ask for that information from a consumer. The FTC has a special mailing address for consumers to use if they have had money debited from their account by MSD or any of the other defendants in this Wal-Mart case. Consumers can send a letter to Faye Chen Barnouw or Jennifer Brennan, 10677 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Consumers should identify which entity took the money, and supply supporting documentation.

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