Spanish speaking consumers conned out of $2 million

The FTC has seen some truly abusive phone scams. But, in a case announced today, Centro Natural scored a hat trick. According to the FTC’s complaint, Centro Natural violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, including the rules of the Do Not Call Registry, the FTC Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Here’s how Centro Natural conned Spanish-speaking consumers out of $2 million. The FTC’s complaint says that Centro Natural used Spanish-speaking telemarketers to call Latino consumers. Callers claimed to be court officials, government officials, or their lawyers, and told consumers they had to pay their debt of up to $9,000. But the callers offered a way to “settle” the debt: the consumer could buy a box of products costing $350-$500.

If the consumers said no, the callers often threatened them with arrest and immigration investigations. If the consumer hung up, the caller might call back and use profane language. When consumers told the callers to stop calling, the calls kept coming. And when consumers got the boxes of unspecified stuff anyway, some consumers paid out of fear. Pushing products people didn’t want, and collecting debts they didn’t owe: that’s how Centro Natural took an estimated $2 million from Latino consumers.

Today, the FTC announced that it temporarily shut down this scheme, and is asking a federal court to shut down the company and their abusive practices permanently.