The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced on Wednesday it has filed a lawsuit against BrightSpeed Solutions Inc. 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. It wound down business operations in March 2019.
In its complaint, the Bureau 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 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.
BrightSpeed and Howard processed remotely created check payments for more than 100 client companies totaling more than $71 million. 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 amounts 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%.