Board Accuses Firm of Scamming Once-Bitten Consumers

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The New York Consumer Protection Board is investigating a company it has accused of using telemarketing to sell a privacy protection service to victims -- many of them elderly -- of a previous scam.

The Senior Advisory Council, Phoenix, is telemarketing "protection plans" to consumers for $247. But officials from the Consumer Protection Board announced over the weekend that they think the company is using a list of victims who lost up to $350 earlier this year to a fictitious Toronto company called Consumer Alliance.

"They've obtained, through some means, a list of victims of another telemarketing scheme," said Jon Sorenson, spokesman for the Consumer Protection Board. "We'd like to know how it is they came by it."

Board chairwoman C. Adrienne Rhodes accused the Senior Advisory Council of obtaining its list from someone involved in the Consumer Alliance scheme. Marketing to that list is "an outrageous attempt to victimize these senior citizens a second time," she said.

A call to the Senior Advisory Council was not returned yesterday. The company's president, Edward Longoria, sent a statement to The New York Times and The Associated Press over the weekend disavowing any connection to Consumer Alliance.

But New York officials said there are several indications that the Senior Advisory Council has a relationship with the earlier scam.

Starting last summer, Consumer Alliance offered consumers low-interest credit cards or a credit card protection package for a fee. However, consumers only received brochures and stickers, the Consumer Protection Board said.

Now, many of those who fell for the Consumer Alliance scam are being solicited by the Senior Advisory Council, the Consumer Protection Board said. The company's telemarketing agents, who often posed as investigators, promised to aid consumers in stopping telemarketing calls from reaching their homes and in some cases mentioned the Consumer Alliance scam by name, the Consumer Protection Board said.

But many services offered by the Senior Advisory Council, such as placement on the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service do-not-call list, are available to consumers for free.

They also sent stickers to consumers -- bearing the words "useless if stolen" -- for placement on credit cards, similar to the stickers sent by Consumer Alliance.

The company also portrayed itself as being the only way to get on the state's do-not-call list, the Consumer Protection Board said.

Board officials demanded that the company halt its campaign in New York, make it clear in its sales message that registration for the state DNC list is free and turn over any records related to the Consumer Alliance victims.

However, in his statement, Longoria said his company's services provide value and fill a customer need. While some of the services are available for free, few consumers take the time to take advantage of them on their own, he said.


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