A CLU to fighting fraud
Imagine a criminal gang has defrauded thousands of people around the country. They may have scammed folks out of millions — or tens of millions — of dollars. The FTC goes after just these kinds of bad guys, and often, can get money back for the consumers who were ripped off. But what about the scammers? Some of them just pick up stakes and start again — ripping off more people along the way. The FTC might haul them right back into court. But the unfortunate truth about some of these crooks is that nothing short of locking them up is going to stop them. That’s where the FTC’s Criminal Liaison Unit comes in. The CLU teams up with prosecutors to get justice for consumers.
The FTC’s Criminal Liaison Unit can give prosecutors strong evidence of criminal conduct that was uncovered during the FTC’s civil investigation. Working together, the FTC and prosecutors can get some of the worst scam artists off the streets. One recent example: the FTC worked with Jennifer Williams, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, on a case where more than 400,000 people had unauthorized charges crammed onto their phone bills and lost more than $75 million. Ms. Williams was able to prosecute and get a 15-year prison sentence for the masterminds behind the scam.
The FTC’s 2014 Prosecuting Attorney’s Award has been presented to Hallie Mitchell Hoffman and Kyle Waldinger, Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Northern District of California, and the lead prosecutors in a case against Roy and John Lin who had placed tens of millions of unwanted charges on people’s phone bills. The FTC case stopped the Lin brothers from making unauthorized charges and led to a $37.9 million judgment. More than $5.4 million was returned to consumers. The FTC has brought more than 25 enforcement actions involving cramming but there have been only a handful of successful federal prosecutions. Hoffman and Waldinger brought the criminal prosecution of the brothers on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering. The defendants pled guilty; they’re off the streets and doing time.