FTC goes after payments processor

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has asked a court to order a payment processor working with a web-based business to repay consumers after the two allegedly debited nearly $2.4 million (£1.2m) from bank accounts without permission.

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The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has asked a court to order a payment processor working with a web-based business to repay consumers after the two allegedly debited nearly $2.4 million (£1.2m) from bank accounts without permission.

The FTC filed a complaint in US District Court in Nevada against InterBill in late December. InterBill, working with Pharmacycards.com, tried to debit more than $9.9m (£5.1) from consumers’ bank accounts, or $139 (£72) from each, even though the consumers had no contact with either company, the FTC said in its complaint.

InterBill processes payments for merchants, including those considered high risk, such as online gaming and mail and telephone marketing. Using consumers’ names and bank-account information provided by Pharmacycards, InterBill debited thousands of accounts despite indications that the Pharmacycards business was not legitimate, the FTC said.

In 2004, the FTC charged Pharmacycards with debiting millions of dollars from checking accounts without consent for nonexistent discount pharmacy cards. The debits took place in early 2004, the FTC said.

InterBill’s website was ‘under construction’ today. There was no phone listing for the company in Las Vegas, which the FTC said is InterBill’s primary business location.

Before working with Pharmacycards, InterBill did not follow its own guidelines for new merchants such as checking references and verifying a physical address, the FTC said. Pharmacycards provided a mail drop in London as a business address and conducted all of its business by prepaid, nearly untraceable cellular phones and free, anonymous email and fax accounts, the FTC said.

The Pharmacycards website provided a toll-free customer service number that was answered at a call centre in Montreal and a fake address in British Columbia. Pharmacycards operators used the identity of a Cyprus corporation and directed that their funds be wired to a Cyprus bankaccount, the FTC said.

The complaint alleges that InterBill anticipated high rates of returned or reversed transactions, a sign that unauthorised debits from consumers accounts were likely. InterBill did not request or obtain proof that consumers had authorised Pharmacycards to debit their accounts.

Shortly after starting its work, rates of returned transactions skyrocketed and InterBill received complaints from consumers and banks, the FTC said. More than 70 per cent of the attempted transactions were returned or refused by banks, the FTC said.

InterBill eventually asked Pharmacycards about the source of its consumer database and requested proof that consumers had received the material for which they were billed. Despite receiving insufficient answers, InterBill kept processing payments, the FTC said.

In addition to repayment, the FTC is requesting that the court block InterBill from similar transactions.

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