Boca case leads to $10 million in FTC refunds. Are you due a check?

Federal officials said this week they are ready to mail more than 36,000 checks totaling more than $10 million in a case involving a Boca Raton tech support company.

The money comes from a settlement with Inbound Call Experts LLC, doing business as Advanced Tech Support, and other defendants. The Federal Trade Commission called it a scam that used high-pressure sales tactics  to market products and services by falsely claiming to find viruses and malware on consumers’ computers.

Average refund: $277.44.  Deposit or cash the check within 60 days, officials advised. Also: Never pay money or provide account information to receive a refund check.  Questions? Call the FTC’s refund line at (877) 793-0908.

Other defendants in the case, which goes back several years, include PC Vitalware LLC, Super PC Support LLC, Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman and Justin M. Wright. Defendants neither admitted nor denied allegations in agreeing to the settlement, according to a court order.

Inbound Call Experts appears to be still in operation, or at least maintaining a phone line under that company name. A call this week was not immediately returned.

 

Boca man’s sweepstakes prize: 6.5 years in prison

More than 100,000 people across the United States and other countries were ripped off by a sweepstakes mail fraud scheme that is sending four men to prison, including one from Palm Beach County, prosecutors said.

The total haul rivaled a small lottery jackpot: More than $25 million.

The men falsely notified people by mail that they had won a substantial prize, federal officials said. Letters claimed recipients just needed to pay a fee ranging from $20 to $50 to redeem their winnings.

But the defendants pocketed the money sent to fictitious companies, according to Benjamin G. Greenberg, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and partners including the Federal Trade Commission.

Marcus Pradel, 41, of Boca Raton received a sentence of 78 months for his role Tuesday, officials said.

Sentenced to 84 months each were Matthew Pisoni, 44, of Fort Lauderdale and Victor Ramirez, 38, of Aventura.  John Leon, 50, of Fort Lauderdale received 24 months. Attempts to seek comment through attorneys were not immediately successful.

The case serves as a reminder of a big red flag that should make consumers realize something’s not quite right when amazing news of cash winnings comes their way.

Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay to receive a prize, the FTC advises.

Con artists can use legitimate-sounding or familiar corporate names and come up with all kinds of excuses that may have a ring of plausibility: It’s for taxes, or to insure delivery.

But when it comes to prize scams, the agency says, never pay to get paid.

FTC: Yes, our emails are real on $10M refunds for Boca tech scheme

A shadowy “tech support” industry based in Palm Beach County has given fits to consumers and regulators alike, with one Lake Worth man accused this year of faking Federal Trade Commission news releases in pursuing victims of past schemes.

That provides a colorful if slightly awkward backdrop to the FTC’s announcement this week it is sending emails to notify eligible consumers they are eligible for a share of $10 million in refunds after a significant settlement.  The refunds come from an agreement with Boca Raton-based Advanced Tech Support, which also used the name Inbound Call Experts.

That’s not the full amount consumers paid but what state and federal officials were able to seize for refunds, so a release describes the refunds as “partial.”

The FTC alleges that for years, a spate of such schemes have scared people into buying worthless software and support, sometimes for hundreds of dollars apiece, to “fix” non-existent computer viruses and malware. Palm Beach County has been home to several companies that employ various forms of advertising, computer pop-ups and telemarketing, often aimed at seniors.

There are even alleged follow-up scams, reaching out to victims and seeking fees to get refunds. One Lake Worth man, Daniel L. Croft, was ordered by a court in April to stop posing as someone affiliated with the FTC.

One tip to tell if the email is real: The FTC email will not ask you for any fees to claim a refund.

The FTC says its emails about refunds in this case will come from: subscribe@subscribe.ftc.gov

The email will have a claim number and a PIN that will give you access to apply for a refund, officials said. If you get an email, follow the instructions and respond by Oct. 27.

Still a little confused and wary?  That’s understandable in this case. You can avoid clicking the link in the email and start the claims process at ftc.gov/TechSupport or call the refund administrator at 877-793-0908, federal officials say.

The refund applies to eligible consumers who bought tech support products and services between April 2012 and November 2014. Again: the deadline to apply is Oct. 27, 2017.

 

Dog Whisperer stock scheme bites Boca man with 9-year sentence

Stock promoters claimed the Dog Whisperer and former CEOs of Apple and Pepsi backed sizzling deals including the provider of a non-contact infrared thermometer for dogs and home health care, federal officials said.

But investors had reason to feel plenty hot and snarly, prosecutors said, when it became evident “there were no actual endorsements by celebrities or wealthy individuals.”

Now a Boca Raton man has been sentenced to 111 months or just over nine years in prison for his role in a scheme that cost 700 victims across the country more than $23 million, officials said.

The former CEO of Sanomedics International Holdings Inc., Keith Houlihan, 49, of Boca Raton was among more than a dozen people charged from South Florida, California and Connecticut. An attempt to reach Houlihan for comment through an attorney was not successful.

His July 26 sentencing comes after an investigation of a “boiler room” scheme that operated from 2009 to 2015, said Benjamin G. Greenberg, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and FBI special agent in charge George L. Piro. Defendants falsely claimed “famous and wealthy individuals, such as former CEOs of Apple Inc., PepsiCo, and IVAX Corp., and the ‘Dog Whisperer,’ were either heavily invested in the company or were company representatives,” they said.

The Dog Whisperer is the name of a reality TV show that featured dog behaviorist Cesar Millan.

Another defendant accused of defrauding “elderly and unsophisticated investors,” Craig Sizer, 49, of Miami, was sentenced to 12 years. Twelve others including Houlihan have have been sentenced or await sentencing.

 

 

Boca weighs message to state: Fix lax texting, driving laws

Update: The Boca Raton city council passed the resolution 5-0 to become the first local-government council to approve it, News Service of Florida reported.

Original post: Police in Florida cannot pull over drivers for texting, but a state representative wants Boca Raton to send a message this week to legislators that lives are at risk because laws are too slack.

State Rep. Slosberg

The Palm Beach Post reported crash reports indicating distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016. Injuries associated with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County.

Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, said she is working with Boca Raton City Councilman Robert Weinroth to introduce a local resolution urging the state legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Florida is one of four states that make it a secondary offense, meaning no penalty unless unless drivers are pulled over for something else like speeding. Bills by Slosberg and others to strengthen the law made little headway in last spring’s legislative session.

Slosberg said she sent requests to every commissioner in the state asking them to adopt this public safety resolution. Weinroth plans to introduce the resolution supporting the legislation before the Boca Raton city council on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

“Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the texting-while-driving ban as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries,” Slosberg said.  “I’ve been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”

 

Boca Raton, Jupiter, North Palm Beach named in top 22 U.S. beach towns

America’s best beach towns in which to live? A ranking released today spreads a little sunshine on Boca Raton at No. 9, Jupiter at No. 14 and North Palm Beach at 22.

Jupiter Inlet beach cam.

The Walletub.com list weighs factors including weather, safety, economy, education, health, affordability and quality of life.

That quality of life measure, for example, includes average commute time, along with restaurants and coffee shops and golf courses per capita. Safety factors include not only the local crime rate but also lifeguards per capita.

“We have big amenities with a small town touch,” said Sarah Pearson, executive vice president of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce.  Her organization figures “our affordable cost of living, award-winning restaurants and beautiful golf courses and beaches makes for a unique combination.”

Florida came off well overall, with Naples and Key West taking the top two spots.

Lake Worth didn’t fare so well in one measure, coming in 227th with the lowest percentage of residents with health insurance to rank 181st overall.

There are some Minnesota towns in the top 10. So that means beach towns on or near lakes and other inland waterways are included as well, right?

“Yes, that’s correct!” said Wallethub spokeswoman Diana Popa.”For this report we considered cities that have populations between 10,000 and 150,000 and at least one beach listed on TripAdvisor. As such, although some cities are not along the coastal line, they are in the proximity and have local beaches next to lakes or inland waterways.”

 

Call the FBI if you bought one of these stocks in Boca man’s scheme

A Boca Raton man conspired to artificially inflate the price of securities at more than half a dozen companies, costing investors at least $3.5 million when they crashed, federal officials said — but not before he cashed out for about $1.2 million.

The investigation is described as “ongoing” and citizens with information that may be helpful, or who believe they may have been victimized, are being encouraged to contact the FBI at (203) 777-6311.

William Lieberman, 41, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in Connecticut to conspiracy and tax offenses, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

It’s sometimes called “pump and dump.” In the bargain, Lieberman evaded $436,000 in federal taxes on his earnings, officials said.

The companies involved included Terra Energy Resources Ltd., Mammoth Energy Group Inc., Strategic Asset Leasing Inc., Trilliant Exploration Corp., Hermes Jets Inc., Continental Beverage Brands Corp., Dolat Ventures Inc. and Fox Petroleum Inc., officials said.

The means of inflating prices between 2010 and 2016 included false and misleading calls, emails and press releases about the financial health of companies, to make investors think they were on to a hot deal, prosecutors said. Working with co-conspirators, Lieberman arranged for what looked like attorneys’ statements to provide assurances about the companies, federal officials said.

A sentencing date has not yet been set, but Lieberman will be ordered to pay restitution to investors, back taxes and interest, according to prosecutors. The counts against him carry maximum terms of 20 and five years.

 

People called this Boca hotline. They got $4.3 million. Here’s why.

Rates of return that don’t match the slick sales pitch. Unauthorized trades to drive up fees. Even IRS impersonation scams.

Two years after its launch in Boca Raton, a financial regulatory group’s investor helpline isn’t just logging financial mischief and mayhem. It has helped return more than $4.3 million to callers, organizers say.

A helpline based in Boca Raton  takes callers of all ages but is especially focused on seniors, said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Brianna Soukup/The Palm Beach Post)

More than 9,200 callers have ranged from age 17 to 102, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority officials said.

“FINRA is committed to protecting senior investors, and our dedicated helpline staff has done a great job responding to callers’ questions, recognizing and addressing concerns around certain products and issues, and promptly escalating relevant matters,” said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations. “The helpline’s success is also due in large part to firms that are proactively assessing issues raised to them by helpline staff and making customers whole where appropriate.”

The hotline’s formal two-year anniversary came April 20.

Who’s calling? Take the 92-year-old who said a company representative traded  368 times in four registered accounts without authorization. FINRA barred the representative and the company offered to settle.

Another senior said he was told a certificate of deposit would pay 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent a year, but the paperwork showed that was over the six-year life of the contract. The investor got a refund.

The group can also help investors check the records of brokers for problems or disciplinary actions.

Got a question or problem?

The FINRA helpline is free. Call 1-844-574-3577.

Boca spammer forfeits $1.3M, Ferrari in hack case hitting 60 million

A Boca Raton man has pleaded guilty to hijacking other people’s email accounts to make more than $1 million while hiding the origins of spam pitching everything from legitimate insurers to illegal sellers of narcotics, federal prosecutors said.

Timothy Livingston, 31, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in New Jersey, officials said Thursday. Sentencing is set for Jan. 27. A plea deal refers to 48 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

No, not this kind of spam.
No, not this kind of spam.

Livingston operated A Whole Lot of Nothing LLC, a business that specialized in sending spam emails on behalf of clients, officials said.

Typically, he charged between $5 and $9 for each spam email that resulted in a completed transaction, according to indictment records.

Livingston “admitted that his clients included legitimate businesses, such as insurance companies that wished to send bulk emails for advertising purposes, as well as illegal entities, such as online pharmacies that sold narcotics without prescriptions,” according to prosecutors. The businesses were not identified in an indictment or plea agreement.

Attempts to seek comment through Livingston’s attorneys were not immediately successful.

With help from associates, he hacked into individual email accounts and used corporate mail servers to send out massive amounts of spam without identifying himself as the sender between 2011 and 2015, officials said.

Those hacks targeted email accounts of more than 60 million people, records show. The moves helped evade spam filters, prosecutors said.

In connection with his plea agreement, Livingston consented to forfeit $1.3 million, a 2009 Cadillac Escalade and a 2006 Ferrari F430 Spider.

 

 

Boca helpline helps save investors $1.3 million, group says

A senior helpline based in Boca Raton has been one way officials have worked to address problems confronting older investors, said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Brianna Soukup/The Palm Beach Post)
A senior helpline based in Boca Raton has been one way officials have worked to address problems confronting older investors, said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Brianna Soukup/The Palm Beach Post)

A Boca Raton-based hotline has helped save investors $1.3 million after a year of operation, a securities industry oversight group that runs its says.

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Securities Helpline for Seniors.

The helpline has fielded more than 4,200 calls and recovered more than $1.3 million in voluntary reimbursements from firms since its launch, officials said.

“Financial fraud is a problem, and seniors are the most vulnerable,” said Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s executive vice president for regulatory operations. “We are very pleased that investors are using our free helpline and encourage seniors, or those caring for seniors, with investment-related questions to give us a call.”

The number is 1-844-574-3577.

The Palm Beach Post wrote about the helpline here.

Callers ranged in age from 22 to 100, the group noted.