Consumer Financial Protection Bureau takes action against payment processor and its former CEO for supporting internet-based technical-support scams
Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed a lawsuit in federal court against BrightSpeed Solutions Inc. (BrightSpeed) and its founder and former chief executive officer, Kevin Howard, for knowingly processing payments for companies engaged in internet-based technical-support fraud. Chicago-based BrightSpeed was a privately owned, third-party payment processor founded and operated by Howard in 2015 and wound down business operations in March 2019.
“BrightSpeed’s unscrupulous acts harmed consumers, and in particular older Americans who are more vulnerable to scams,” said CFPB Acting Director David Uejio. “The CFPB will use all its tools at its disposal, including litigation, to take action to protect consumers.”
The CFPB alleges that between 2016 and 2018, Howard and BrightSpeed knowingly processed payments for client companies that purported to offer technical-support services and products over the internet, but instead tricked consumers, often older Americans, into purchasing expensive and unnecessary antivirus software or services. The CFPB alleges that Howard’s and BrightSpeed’s actions were unfair practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 and deceptive telemarketing practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The CFPB’s complaint seeks injunctions against BrightSpeed and Howard, as well as damages, redress to consumers, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and the imposition of civil money penalties.
From 2016 to 2018, BrightSpeed and Howard processed remotely created check payments for more than 100 client companies totaling more than $71 million. A remotely created check is often produced by a customer or its service provider and drawn from a customer’s bank account. The check often is authorized by the customer remotely, by telephone or online, and therefore does not bear the customer’s handwritten signature. The CFPB alleges that many of BrightSpeed’s client companies purported to provide antivirus software and technical-support services to consumers, but instead scammed them into purchasing unnecessary and expensive computer software and services for sometimes as high as $2,000. BrightSpeed’s clients sold their products and services through telemarketing and received payment through remotely created checks. The CFPB alleges that BrightSpeed and Howard continued to process the scammers’ remotely created check payments for months and, in some cases, years. BrightSpeed and Howard did so despite being aware of nearly 1,000 consumer complaints, several inquiries from police departments around the country, and return rates averaging more than 20%.
More information about what consumers should know about tech-support scams is available in the CFPB’s recent blog post available here.
The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have violated the law.
A copy of the complaint is available here.