The FTC filed a complaint in April against Daniel L. Croft, doing business as PC Guru Tech Support and Elite Tech Support. Federal officials alleged he contacted consumers by email and used fake FTC press releases and the names of real agency staff members to trick consumers into contacting him so he could try to sell them unnecessary tech support services.
“The so-called ‘Federal Trade Commission Report’ is designed to look like a press release issued by the FTC and includes the FTC’s seal and motto, and even lists two FTC attorneys who work in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection,” the FTC’s complaint noted.
But the report was completely “bogus,” the complaint said.
Federal officials obtained a default judgment. An order issued July 20 by U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach imposes a fine and permanent injunction. Attempts to reach Croft for comment were not successful. There is no defense attorney listed in court records.
Honk if this sounds a little too familiar: The South Florida region that includes West Palm Beach and Miami sputters to a stop as worst in the nation for affording a car, according to a study by Bankrate.com of North Palm Beach.
It’s not a mere mismatch of the salaries of regular working folks to the sticker price on a vehicle, researchers said. Other stuff that comes with a car costs more in some places than others. And we aren’t talking pine-tree air freshener.
“Car insurance was a big factor,” said Bankrate.com analyst Claes Bell.
Throw in other things like a relatively high sales tax in a state without an income tax, and you’ve got West Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale-Miami pulling in last among 25 big metro areas it examined.
Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, where salaries tended to match up favorably to car prices, came out on top of this particular index.
Here’s how Bankrate looked at it. It figured what a driver could afford by putting down 20 percent of a vehicle’s purchase price, taking out a car loan for no more than four years, and devoting no more than 10 percent of her annual income to car payments, interest and insurance.
Now it’s true South Florida drivers with decent credit can steer around some of these limitations and get deals with little money down and loans longer than four years in today’s environment of historically low interest rates.
But the analysis does bring out the impact of relatively high insurance costs. Florida has consistently ranked in the top 10 states for average car insurance premiums and the bills tend to run higher in this end of the state.
Bankrate cites the example of Brooke Waszak, a real estate agent in Lake Worth. She traded in an older vehicle for a late-model used car and saw insurance premiums jump more than 100 percent. That came as a shock: “I didn’t factor it in at all.”
Regency Financial Services and principal Ivan Levy perpetrated a “vehicle loan assistance relief services scam,” the FTC charged. Websites promised beleaguered drivers could “lower your payments as much as 50% regardless of your credit score” and claimed consumers saved an average of $293 per month, according to an FTC complaint.
Instead customers paid up-front fees, often $499 in a lump sum or installments, relying on promises the company would prevent creditors from repossessing their vehicles and substantially reduce their interest rate, officials said. Regency typically provided “valueless referrals and advice,” according to the complaint alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices.
The FTC said it is mailing 288 checks totaling more than $109,000 to people who paid an up-front fee. Average amount: $380.
A settlement that produced the money also banned the defendants from telemarketing and selling debt relief products or services. Attempts to seek comment from defendants through an attorney were not successful.
Affected consumers should deposit or cash checks within 60 days, federal officials said, and if they have questions, they should contact the FTC’s refund administrator, Rust Consulting Inc., at 866-591-7249.
In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, Corry E. Pearson of Riviera Beach and Stephane Cindy Anor of West Palm Beach were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
Pearson, who owned Tax King Inc. in West Palm beach, was also charged with money laundering. Anor was described as an employee.
In some cases, they stole identities and collected returns for themselves, according to Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Kelly R. Jackson, special agent in charge for the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation unit.
Some returns involved false representations about gambling losses and education credits, federal officials said.
Attempts to reach the defendants were not successful. A statement from federal officials notes an indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges carry maximum penalties up to 20 years each, with two years a possible penalty for ID theft, officials said.
Tax King Inc. was incorporated in 2012 in West Palm Beach and later dissolved for failure to file administrative reports, state records show.
Federal authorities focused on at least 862 returns they considered fraudulent, dating back as far as 2012.
Update: A Jupiter customer said he was overcharged about $14,000.
“It’s just mind-boggling the largest insurer in Florida can’t fix its own billing system,” the man said.
Original post: Florida’s largest health insurer with more than 4 million customers is apologizing for a payment processing glitch affecting May invoices — with one West Palm Beach man saying his bank account was debited 36 times within hours.
Florida Blue officials told The Palm Beach Post they are still assessing how many people have been affected, but one customer who requested anonymity said he suspects many others have been disrupted because officials at his bank seemed to know about it.
What should have been a monthly premium payment of just under $1,100 instead resulted in his account being overdrawn by more than $40,000, the man said. That generated about $1,400 in bank fees, he said.
The company, also known as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida, said in a statement it will reimburse members on an individual basis for erroneous charges and bank fees.
“Earlier today we were notified of a payment processing issue that occurred over the weekend with one of our vendors,” Florida Blue spokesman Paul Kluding said. “This issue resulted in some members’ accounts being drafted multiple times for their May invoice. We are very sorry for the problems this is causing our members. We are addressing the situation as quickly as possible.”
In the meantime, here are the steps the company says it is taking:
“We are working to identify all overpayments proactively and refund them promptly. We will ensure that only the appropriate amount is deducted and excess deductions are refunded. In fact, we have already begun processing refunds for some customers.
“We will reimburse members for any bank fees incurred due to overdrafts caused by this issue. We will work on an individual basis with any member who has concerns about adverse impact on their credit.
“We have stopped taking electronic fund transfer payments for the time being and have delayed ongoing automatic payments scheduled for this month until we understand the issue and ensure it is corrected.
“Since members currently will not be able to make payments, we will not cancel a policy for nonpayment until the issue is resolved.
“During this time, we will ensure that people who need care are able to get it, even if they are unable to make premium payments as a result of this issue.”
In response to questions from the Post, Kluding said, “At this time we do not have a definitive number for how many were impacted, but we continue to research the issue.”
The company statement said, “We apologize for the problems this situation has created for our members. We commit to addressing it quickly and making things right for the people we serve.”
“The ambulance providers are being framed as the cause of this balance billing when it’s actually the insurance provider,” said Darrel Donatto, Deputy Fire Rescue Chief for the town of Palm Beach.
Consumers may get hit with bills they are not expecting because their insurers are not covering the full amounts charged, said Donatto, who is active with state and local fire chief associations. Any potential moves by state legislators to limit what ambulance services can bill consumers will likely shift costs to taxpayers, he said.
“The question is, should taxpayers be subsidizing the insurers with record profits?” Donatto said.
Insurance industry officials responded they are among the nation’s most regulated industries, effectively limiting profits they can keep.
“We don’t want our consumers to be receiving balance bills,” said Wences Troncoso, vice president and general counsel for the Florida Association of Health Plans.
“I think we’re both trying to achieve the same thing at the end of the day and that’s protect the Florida consumer and achieve a fair outcome,” Troncoso said.
He asked why most ambulance services choose not to join insurer networks and come up with a mutually-agreed contracted rate.
But Donatto said in his experience, there has been “no negotiation, no willingness” by insurers to pay sufficient reimbursement, making it “fiscally irresponsible” for ambulance providers to join.
With insurers and ambulance providers often locked in a stalemate, consumers feel caught in the middle, paying amounts they were not expecting.
A state working group led by Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James is exploring possible solutions to the deadlock for legislators to consider. A meeting Tuesday in Tallahassee focused on ground ambulance charges.
Complaints to state agencies show consumers are often upset that they pay taxes for ambulance services as well as insurance premiums, only to get billed after a ride for amounts that can range from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000.
Balance bills for air ambulance rides can be far higher, $25,000 or $35,000 or more. A later meeting of the working group, proposed for June 13, will address those. Any recommendations concerning possible actions by state legislators are expected to affect the 2018 session, not this spring’s gathering.
The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday on bills such as the one for more than $800 that caught Edward and Bonny Fishman of Boynton Beach by surprise.
Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services threatened to turn the Fishmans over to a collection agency if they did not pay, the couple said.
“I was shocked,” Edward Fishman, 64, said. “What is this? We pay taxes for fire and rescue. Why is there a charge? How do they determine how much they charge?”
Consumers say such charges can force them to consider the financial consequences of calling 911 rather than just focusing on getting medical help.
Bonny Fishman, 62, said, “If God forbid we were in an emergency in the future, I would think twice about calling an ambulance.”
Want to sign up for access to quicker security lines at the airport? A new mobile enrollment center for TSA PreCheck is coming to West Palm Beach.
With TSA PreCheck, travelers can pay $85 for five years of access to an expedited security line, where they won’t have to remove their shoes, belts or coats, and their laptops and liquids can stay in their carry-ons. The fee covers the cost of background checks and fingerprinting performed by contractor IdentoGo. Once the background checks are completed, travelers are assigned a Known Traveler Number they provide to airlines when booking flights.
IdentoGo’s “big green RV” will be at the headquarters of security software company Sisco from now through Feb. 10. Then it will be stationed outside the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Gun Club Road from Feb. 13-24.
The mobile enrollment center accepts walk-ins, but appointments are recommended. Click here to make an appointment, and click here to see which documents you will need to bring with you.
Here is the full schedule for the RV while it’s in West Palm Beach:
3595 Fiscal Court, West Palm Beach
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10
And the timing couldn’t be much better. A cold front is expected to drop temperatures in Palm Beach County into the high 60s Saturday morning, and into the low 40s Sunday, the National Weather Service says.
During cool weather, manatees tend to flock to the warm water flowing from FPL’s Riviera Beach power plant next to the Manatee Lagoon center, making this weekend a good opportunity to spot some sea cows.
The $4.8 million facility also offers a boardwalk, a manatee cam, a pavilion, a gift shop and educational exhibits.