Florida man charged in telephone cramming scheme

The defendant's companies billed telephone customers for collect calls they never made, two agencies allege

A Florida man has been charged with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a so-called telephone cramming scheme, in which companies he owned allegedly charged customers for calls they did not make, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspector's Miami field office announced.

Willoughby Farr, 46, of West Palm Beach, Florida, was in jail during the time of the phone cramming scheme, but three companies he owned billed customers for collect calls they did not make, the two agencies said Wednesday. Farr faces six counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud, and each count has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine and restitution.

From April 2003 to December 2005, Farr used three West Palm Beach companies -- Nationwide Connections, Access One Communications and Connect One Communications -- to defraud consumers, the agencies alleged in a newly unsealed indictment. Through these companies, Farr allegedly arranged for local telephone companies to falsely bill consumers for collect calls, the agencies said.

The charges typically appeared on the last page of customers' telephone bills, and many paid the charges, the DOJ said in a press release.

Farr hid his ownership of the three firms, the DOJ said. Other companies had cut off his ability to bill for calls after consumer complaints and after state regulators had sued him for illegitimate billing, the agency said.

"This type of scheme steals from hundreds of thousands of consumers who inadvertently pay toll charges that appear on their phone bills without authorization," Assistant Attorney General Tony West said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to prosecute financial crimes of this nature, but this case stresses the need for consumers to carefully review their telephone bills to make sure fraudulent charges are not included."

In February 2006, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission brought a cramming lawsuit against several firms and individuals, including Farr. That lawsuit resulted in a US$34.5 million judgment against Farr.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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