'Hide the Cash' Telemarketers Scam U.S. Consumers $10.5 Million

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Two Canadians have pleaded guilty to participating in a telemarketing scam authorities say raked in nearly $10.5 million from some 37,000 U.S. consumers, just days after two other Canadians were sentenced in a similar but unrelated case.

Steven Winter, 38, and Sean McVicar, 34, both of Toronto, on Thursday pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Sentencing was set for Nov. 2. They each face up to 10 years in federal prison.

The U.S. government said that for several years dating to 1999, companies headed by Winter and employing McVicar used high-pressure tactics in duping consumers into paying fees of $149 to $400 for items such as supposed credit-card protection services.

The telemarketers insisted that credit-card companies required consumers to have such safeguards. But under U.S. regulations, a consumer actually cannot be held liable for more than $50 for any unauthorized charged to a credit card account.

Federal prosecutors said consumers also were told that unless they paid a roughly $200 "processing fee" in advance to the defendants for a credit card, the consumer's credit history would be "red flagged," hurting that person's ability to get another credit card.

No customer-service representatives were made available to buyers of the supposed credit-card protection. Instead, consumer calls were routed to an answering machine.

A 2007 indictment naming Winter and McVicar portrays Winter as the mastermind who set up and controlled the telemarketing operations in Canada, the U.S. and Belize under various corporate names, including HTC Holdings — an acronym for "Hide the Cash" — and BBC Corp., which stood for "Billionaire Boys Club."

On Tuesday, Canadians David Dalglish, 53, and Leslie Anderson, 56, were sentenced to roughly two decades in prison for their roles in a credit card scam that targeted U.S. residents with poor credit. They were ordered to repay nearly $5.6 million for their roles in a separate telemarketing scheme that affected 40,000 people, many of them with poor credit.