Your day in the sun: More than 356,000 checks to be sent to scam victims

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More than 356,000 victims of a massive nationwide telemarketing scam will be sent checks totaling more than $14 million, the Federal Trade Commission said.

The telemarketing operation was run by Suntasia Marketing of Largo, Fla., which allegedly deceived nearly a million people into joining buyers' and travel clubs between 1999 and 2007, the FTC said in a news release. A permanent injunction shutting down the operation, which took in more than $170 million, was filed in federal court a year ago. The company's principals also agreed to sell their homes, boats and vehicles to add to the compensation fund.

At the same time, Wachovia Bank -- which collected many of the unauthorized charges on behalf of Suntasia -- sent out more than $33 million in checks to victims of this scam.

Among the names Suntasia used to draw money from its victims' accounts were Distinct Advantage, Freedom Gold, Variety!, Credit Life, Capital Vacations, Agents Travel Network, Florida Passport, Travel Agents Go Direct, Floridaway, Freedom Ring ULD, and Lucid Long Distance.

Consumers signed up for what they were led to believe was a no-cost trial offer, but in doing so gave out bank account information. The accounts were debited unless consumers specifically canceled the trials. More than 5,000 consumers lodged formal complaints against the company.

Suntasia was amazingly successful at its scheme, amassing a workforce of about 1,000 employees before being shut down. The company's principals reached an agreement with the FTC last January to close the operation and pay into the restitution fund.

This additional disbursement now being issued was prompted by the sale of property by the defendants, including the facility in Largo where the business was operated. The FTC said the average check will be about $40.

As it did the first time restitution was paid in this case, the FTC is assuring the victims that the checks are real and should be cashed. The checks, being mailed starting this week, are good for 45 days from the date of issue.

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