Missouri AG Files Fraud Charges in Alleged Auto-Dialer Scam

Missouri AG Files Fraud Charges in Alleged Auto-Dialer Scam
Matt O'Conner
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Attorney General Jay Nixon has slapped Michael Walczak, the owner of several New Hampshire-based billing and telecom companies, with a lawsuit accusing him and his companies of fraudulently charging consumers for accessing adult websites they never actually accessed and making international long distance calls they never actually made.

Jim Gardner, a spokesperson for the Missouri Attorney General’s office, told XBiz that Walczak’s companies — Phoenix One Billing, dba Premium Premier Communications, and National One Telecom, dba One Web Direct Bill — allegedly attempted to defraud dozens of consumers by hijacking their modems with dialer programs that automatically dial “premium rate” numbers in the United Kingdom and log them onto what the suit refers to as “a pay-per-view website.”

Gardner said the suit specifically names a site called LiveWebCam.com (not to be confused with the Streamray site LiveWebCam.net), but a check of the URL brings up a link farm rather than a PPV site.

In court papers obtained by XBiz, the state of Missouri also charges Walczak and his companies with sending deceptive collections letters demanding payment and threatening legal action against victims who did not pay up. He is accused of numerous crimes, including fraud and unfair trade practices.

Nixon has asked the Jackson County Circuit Court to force Walczak to make restitution to the alleged victims, fine Waczak $1,000 per violation and block him and his company from doing business within the state.

This isn’t the first time Walczak has been accused of shady practices related to his companies, Premium Premier Billing, Phoenix One Billing and National One Telecom.

During the past year, Better Business Bureaus in Texas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Virginia have issued warnings about the companies based on numerous consumer complaints.

According to John Riggins, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Better Business Bureau, his office received more than 1,000 complaints against Walczak-owned companies during a single two-month period earlier this year. Bogus customer charges ranged from $30 all the way up to $1,000, and actual site names weren’t listed on the bills; rather, they simply attributed the charges to “Access to Pay-Per-View Websites.”

Consumers also have complained that their computers have been bogged down by persistent popups connecting them to “hot teen sex” — and making their computers unresponsive.

Jan Margosian, a spokesperson for Oregon’s attorney general, said her office also has received hundreds of complaints.

“People tell us they’ve been hit with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bogus charges,” she said, adding that the office is investigating Walczak and his companies but has been stymied by the fact that most operate under DBAs and do not provide contact information other that P.O. boxes.

National One issued a public response to the groundswell of complaints several months ago, claiming that it offers a “one-time courtesy credit” to customers who believe they have been wrongly charged. However, alleged victims have reported to the Texas Attorney General’s office that the company has not responded to their requests for refunds.

Premier Premium Communications similarly issued a press release asserting that it simply handles billing for various websites and cannot be held responsible for their practices. The company said that out of roughly 15,000 weekly invoices, about 4 percent are disputed.

The press release did not list any contact name, address, telephone number or email.

XBiz obtained an 800 number supposedly belonging to Phoenix One Billing but registered in Utah. After three rings, the line went busy.

Margosian said her office has experienced similar difficulties.