By Jennifer Martinez - 11/01/12 05:52 PM EDT
The robo-calls typically came from a false number and played a pre-recorded message from a representative named Rachel from Cardholder Services or the person's credit card company, according to the FTC. Those who elected to learn more about the deal offered in Rachel's message were connected to telemarketers who offered to drastically lower their credit card rates, often to 6.9 or zero percent, or help pay off their debt two to three times faster, the FTC said.
But the deals ended up being too good to be true. Once people were approved for the telemarketer's program, they were asked to pay a hefty fee that ranged from "several hundred dollars to nearly $3,000," the FTC said. Some robo-call victims were charged even if they didn't agree to pay the fee or the telemarketers never mentioned it to them.
The FTC said it receives more than 200,000 complaints each month about these deceptive robo-calls and the bulk of those complaints are about Rachel from CardHolder Services.
The complaints filed against the five companies are part of a larger FTC crackdown against robo-call companies. The FTC said it has 17 cases against these alleged scammers. It's also running a contest where people are competing for $50,000 if they come up with the best new technology to screen out robo-calls.
The FTC sued Treasure Your Success, Ambrosia Web Design, A+ Financial Center, The Green Savers and Key One Solutions.
However, the agency believes the companies didn't make the calls themselves and hired other firms to dial consumers instead. For example, the FTC claims that a company named Asia Pacific placed 2.6 billion robo-calls over an 18 month period. The agency said it's aiming to go after these "dialer" companies.
One of the victims of the scam robo-calls is 84-year-old Alyce Weisbach of Illinois, who was charged nearly $2,000 after speaking to one of the Green Savers telemarketers. Weisbach said the telemarketer never mentioned a fee to her and she did not authorize the charge.
Weisbach told reporters on a conference call that she knew she "was taken for a ride" after she hung up on the telemarketer. She's currently working with Visa to get her money back.
Chuck Harwood, deputy director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, said on the conference call that credit card companies like Visa have a hard time recouping the money from the scammers. He advised people to immediately hang up the phone if they receive a robo-call and to notify their credit card companies, the FTC or the Better Business Bureau if they believe they've been a victim of a scam.