Payments processor settles with FTC over unauthorized $200 million debits

wachovia signA payment processing company that debited more than $200 million from consumers' bank accounts on behalf of fraudulent telemarketers has settled charges by the Federal Trade Commission and seven states that it abetted its clients' deceptive schemes.

Your Money Access, LLC, a Florida-based company that went out of business in 2008, participated in a patently illegal operation that hinged on its willingness to provide access to the banking system and process unauthorized debits, the complaint states.

According to the FTC and seven states, YMA between June 2004 and March 2006 processed numerous unsigned paper checks, using consumers' bank routing and account numbers. These were provided by telemarketers who were allegedly violating the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule. In some cases, payments were made to YMA, and in others to YMA's client merchants.

In exchange for accessing consumers' bank accounts, YMA received a processing fee and, if a transaction was returned or rejected, a much higher "return fee." These fees formed a substantial source of income for the company, leading it to initiate transactions whether they were likely to be declined or not, the lawsuit claims. More than $69 million of the attempted debits were rejected or disputed by consumers or their banks.

YMA maintained accounts with Wachovia Bank, which according to the FTC helped perpetuate the fraud. The bank, since taken over by Wells Fargo, agreed in 2008 to issue more than $150 million in redress checks to consumers defrauded by YMA and two other payments processors.

Under the settlement, YMA's former president, Derrelle Janey, is banned from participating in the processing of payments debited from consumers' bank accounts, and permanently prohibited from aiding anyone who is violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The order imposes a $625,000 judgment, of which Janey has paid $15,000 so far.

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