FTC Halts Timeshare Property Resale Scam; Telemarketers Falsely Claimed They Had Buyers Lined Up, Agency Alleges

7/19/2011 FTC News Release:

At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal court has temporarily halted a telemarketing operation that targeted consumers trying to sell their timeshare properties. The defendants allegedly charged consumers thousands of dollars, falsely claiming they had buyers lined up for sales that supposedly would be reviewed and approved by the FTC. As part of its continuing crackdown on con artists who prey upon financially distressed consumers, the FTC seeks to permanently end the defendants’ deceptive practices and make them refund consumers’ money.

According to court papers filed by the FTC, the Orlando, Florida-based defendants, who operated out of mail drop addresses in places such as Las Vegas, Boston, and Orlando, contacted consumers trying to sell their timeshare properties and told them they had buyers for their properties. In order for the sale to proceed, the defendants charged consumers up to $3,150 – either as an “earnest money deposit” to commit them to the sale, or for sale-related expenses – which, consumers were told, would be refunded when the sale closed. The defendants instructed consumers to pay by cashier’s check or money order sent by overnight delivery, and to immediately sign and return a “sales agreement” or “seller’s document” that would be mailed to them. Telemarketers who spoke with consumers often represented that the property sale would be reviewed and approved by the FTC.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that the “sales agreement” was merely a marketing contract for advertising the property, not a sales contract. Consumers who signed the contract and sent their payment to the defendants often were not contacted again, and consumers’ properties were never sold. Consumers who called the defendants were given the run-around, and refund demands were routinely ignored or denied. Contrary to the defendants’ alleged assertions, the FTC does not review or approve timeshare sales.

The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting that they had buyers willing to pay a specific price for consumers’ timeshare properties, that they would refund their fee when the property was sold, and that the FTC would review and approve proposed sales.

The court froze the defendants’ assets and appointed a receiver to take control of the businesses. The defendants are National Solutions LLC, also doing business as Blue Scape Timeshares International, Country Wide Timeshares, Countrywide Timesharesales MA, Landmark Timeshares, Propertys Direct, Quicksale Propertys, Sun Property Networks, Sun Property’s, Universal Propertys, and VIM Timeshares; Landmark Marketing LLC, also doing business as Blue Scape Timeshares, Country Wide Timeshares International, Propertys DRK, Quick Sale Advisers, Quick Sale International, and Universal Propertys International; Red Solutions LLC, also doing business as City Resorts and Resort Advisors; Enterprise America, LLC, also doing business as American Timeshares, Exit Week, and Resort Advisors International; Investments Group of Florida, LLC, also doing business as Resort Advisors AM; Multiglobe LLC, also doing business as Universal Propertys; Leandro Velazquez; Samuel Velazquez; Joel Velazquez; Kiomary Cruz; Edgar Gonzalez; Vicente Virgilio; and Aaron Weiss.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division.

To learn how to avoid pitfalls when selling a timeshare unit, read the FTC’s Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.

Click here for the original news release and additional information.

Sixteen Individuals Arrested in the United States for Alleged Roles in Cyber Attacks

7/19/2011 FBI News Release:

More Than 35 Search Warrants Executed in United States, Five Arrests in Europe as Part of Ongoing Cyber Investigations

WASHINGTON—Fourteen individuals were arrested today by FBI agents on charges related to their alleged involvement in a cyber attack on PayPal’s website as part of an action claimed by the group “Anonymous,” announced the Department of Justice and the FBI. Two additional defendants were arrested today on cyber-related charges.

The 14 individuals were arrested in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio on charges contained in an indictment unsealed today in the Northern District of California in San Jose. In addition, two individuals were arrested on similar charges in two separate complaints filed in the Middle District of Florida and the District of New Jersey. Also today, FBI agents executed more than 35 search warrants throughout the United States as part of an ongoing investigation into coordinated cyber attacks against major companies and organizations. Finally, the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service arrested one person and the Dutch National Police Agency arrested four individuals today for alleged related cyber crimes.

According to the San Jose indictment, in late November 2010, WikiLeaks released a large amount of classified U.S. State Department cables on its website. Citing violations of the PayPal terms of service, and in response to WikiLeaks’ release of the classified cables, PayPal suspended WikiLeaks’ accounts so that WikiLeaks could no longer receive donations via PayPal. WikiLeaks’ website declared that PayPal’s action “tried to economically strangle WikiLeaks.”

The San Jose indictment alleges that in retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account, a group calling itself Anonymous coordinated and executed distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against PayPal’s computer servers using an open source computer program the group makes available for free download on the Internet. DDoS attacks are attempts to render computers unavailable to users through a variety of means, including saturating the target computers or networks with external communications requests, thereby denying service to legitimate users. According to the indictment, Anonymous referred to the DDoS attacks on PayPal as “Operation Avenge Assange.”

The defendants charged in the San Jose indictment allegedly conspired with others to intentionally damage protected computers at PayPal from Dec. 6, 2010, to Dec. 10, 2010.

The individuals named in the San Jose indictment are: Christopher Wayne Cooper, 23, aka “Anthrophobic;” Joshua John Covelli, 26, aka “Absolem” and “Toxic;” Keith Wilson Downey, 26; Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20, aka “No” and “MMMM;” Donald Husband, 29, aka “Ananon;” Vincent Charles Kershaw, 27, aka “Trivette,” “Triv” and “Reaper;” Ethan Miles, 33; James C. Murphy, 36; Drew Alan Phillips, 26, aka “Drew010;” Jeffrey Puglisi, 28, aka “Jeffer,” “Jefferp” and “Ji;” Daniel Sullivan, 22; Tracy Ann Valenzuela, 42; and Christopher Quang Vo, 22. One individual’s name has been withheld by the court.

The defendants are charged with various counts of conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer. They will make initial appearances throughout the day in the districts in which they were arrested.

In addition to the activities in San Jose, Scott Matthew Arciszewski, 21, was arrested today by FBI agents on charges of intentional damage to a protected computer. Arciszewski is charged in a complaint filed in the Middle District of Florida and made his initial appearance this afternoon in federal court in Orlando, Fla.

According to the complaint, on June 21, 2011, Arciszewski allegedly accessed without authorization the Tampa Bay InfraGard website and uploaded three files. The complaint alleges that Arciszewski then tweeted about the intrusion and directed visitors to a separate website containing links with instructions on how to exploit the Tampa InfraGard website. InfraGard is a public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection sponsored by the FBI with chapters in all 50 states.

Also today, a related complaint unsealed in the District of New Jersey charges Lance Moore, 21, of Las Cruces, N.M., with allegedly stealing confidential business information stored on AT&T’s servers and posting it on a public file sharing site. Moore was arrested this morning at his residence by FBI agents and is expected to make an initial appearance this afternoon in Las Cruces federal court. Moore is charged in with one count of accessing a protected computer without authorization.

According to the New Jersey complaint, Moore, a customer support contractor, exceeded his authorized access to AT&T’s servers and downloaded thousands of documents, applications and other files that, on the same day, he allegedly posted on a public file-hosting site that promises user anonymity. According to the complaint, on June 25, 2011, the computer hacking group LulzSec publicized that they had obtained confidential AT&T documents and made them publicly available on the Internet. The documents were the ones Moore had previously uploaded.

The charge of intentional damage to a protected computer carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An indictment and a complaint merely contain allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

To date, more than 75 searches have taken place in the United States as part of the ongoing investigations into these attacks.

These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern District of California, Middle District of Florida, and the District of New Jersey. The Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section also has provided assistance.

Today’s operational activities were done in coordination with the Metropolitan Police Service in the United Kingdom and the Dutch National Police Agency. The FBI thanks the multiple international, federal, and domestic law enforcement agencies who continue to support these operations.

Original release is here.

Lance Murkin Ordered To Return $10.4 Million In Fraudulently Obtained Funds

There are plenty of work-at-home opportunities and some of them can possibly help you make a living online if you work hard and manage your time and money well.  Of course even if you find the best opportunity, manage your time and resources well, and work hard, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll succeed.

Lance Murkin is a businessman whose work-at-home opportunities had been garnering a lot of negative attention from the Better Business Bureau for the past 15 years or so. Ever since Murkin founded Real Wealth, Inc., which was back in the year 1996, his business had been under close BBB scrutiny. The Bureau has investigated plenty of misleading advertisements by Mr. Murkin and all of them have contributed to exposing the founder of Real Wealth, Inc. as a scammer. Also operated as American Financial Publications, Emerald Press, Financial Research, Global Direct Marketing, Midwest Marketing, Pacific Press, United Financial Publications, Wealth Research, and others, Real Wealth, Inc. advertised either fraudulent work-at-home schemes or grant scams. And for each scheme, Mr. Murkin had an alias.

As a result of advertising in a misleading manner, Mr. Murkin had been in the thick of a legal battle with the FTC for the past fifteen months which ended on March 25, 2011 when Mr. Murkin filed Bankruptcy. The FTC had frozen Mr. Murkin’s assets before that. Less than two months after Mr. Murkin gave up, a Federal Judge handed down a judgment that Mr. Murkin was to return $10.4 million in fraudulently obtained funds from 2004-2010 and he was also banned from marketing any sort of  work-at-home opportunities or grants programs. This, however, could not have been possible without the help of the Better Business Bureau.

Back in the year 2009 when a local Los Angeles news agency had asked the BBB for information on one of Murkin’s schemes that convinced people to ask celebrities for money, the news story was noticed by the FTC who then contacted the BBB for information. Luckily, the BBB had been keeping a close eye on Mr. Murkin and his companies for over a decade due to which it could provide the FTC what it needed. It provided the FTC a significant amount of information which included Mr. Murkin’s business names, aliases, advertising practices, his victims, his attorney and his websites.

A Better Business Bureau representative had also agreed to provide a declaration to be submitted in evidence and testimony on behalf of the prosecution if the case reached trial. The BBB’s most note-worthy contribution to the case, however, was the series of ad-reviews conducted between 2001 and 2009 that asked Mr. Murkin to substantiate earnings claims, which he did not. Instead, he defended most of his scams by claiming that his long time attorney Thayer Lindauer, “who has over 30 years experience as a marketing attorney” as cited by Mr. Murkin, had seen to it that all advertising and marketing campaigns were in compliance with all state and federal regulations. Nonetheless, record has it that Lindauer has represented multi-level marketers who got into legal trouble for false advertising in the past too.

According to the BBB report Lance Murkin now plays in a cover band in bars.