Traxler’s scam lasted from May to August 2021, in which he “repeatedly engaged in conduct that violated the federal wire fraud statute and the Commission’s rules,” the FCC said. The proposed $ 220,210 forfeiture fine is “the statutory maximum we can impose and reflects the extent, duration, severity and seriousness of Cleo’s apparent violations,” according to the commission.
When Cleo applied to join the EBB program, the FCC initially told the entity that its application would be “denied because it lacks sufficient information for approval.” But Cleo subsequently gained FCC approval by offering documents, including copies of two invoices “with customer identifying information removed, which Cleo claimed was ‘due to CPNI and privacy’.” Cleo also claimed to the FCC that it “had provided high-speed wireless internet” to 500 customers.
Dozens of almost identical complaints
The FCC said it reviewed 41 complaints about Cleo, all of which “focused on the same types of allegations.” ‘is [Universal Service Administrative Company] website and followed links to Cleos website. The complainants alleged that Cleo accepted payment for EBB Program reduced broadband services or connected devices from these consumers electronically, failed to ship the ordered product or provide the requested services and then failed to provide a refund. “
The FCC interviewed eight of the consumers who filed complaints who live in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Washington state, and Wisconsin.
An Illinois woman ordered a Cleo laptop for $ 50 using the Venmo payment service. The woman received no response when she contacted Cleo to report that she never received the laptop, the FCC said. She “then tried to reach out to Cleo via social media (Facebook) and by phone, but Cleo did not respond and blocked her both on Facebook and phone,” the FCC said.
A New York woman “ordered an EBB Program-discounted tablet, laptop, ‘Wi-Fi box’ and hotspot service from Cleo’s website on July 13, 2021 and arranged payment of $ 108.94 on the website through PayPal,” he said. FCC. This consumer “told Bureau staff that she sent an email to Cleo when she did not receive the devices she ordered and that Cleo staff was” rude to her and told her that they did not need to service her. “She said someone at Cleo’s told her to ‘read it in small print’. She exchanged a few emails with Cleo until it finally stopped responding.”
Other complainants similarly said that Cleo stopped responding to messages seeking information about the devices they never received. Some of the consumers were able to cancel payments made via credit card or PayPal.
“The eight consumers interviewed by the Bureau and other consumers who filed complaints with the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Center all stated that Cleo did not provide the EBB Program-supported services or devices they ordered and the company refused to issue refunds. Some “Consumers stated in their complaints that Cleo claimed it would sue them when they asked for a refund,” the FCC said.
Shady Terms of Service prohibited reimbursement
The Terms of Service, which Cleo cited when he refused a refund, said the company “will NOT suggest or ever accept a refund, credits or any other refund of service and money to be returned to you.”
“Cleo Communications operates a PREPAID service. All services are sold as in [sic] and without warranty. Cleo Communications does NOT under any circumstances represent any warranty, nor does it provide a refund of any kind for services offered, “the terms of the FCC state.” at any time and is the subject of further litigation up to, but not limited to, litigation for minor claims for breach of contract with an amount equal to the disputed, all attorneys ‘fees, court fees, attorneys’ fees, litigation costs, interest of 9.9% and a breach of contract fee of $ 300.00. “
Rude response: “You will be taken to court”
The FCC document described detailed incidents in which Cleo responded to customers seeking restitution by threatening to sue or suing for harassment:
As an example, on August 2, 2021, when a customer sent an email requesting a refund, Cleo replied, “[y]our desire to hide behind PayPal instead of contacting us. We will not issue a refund to you. We will not allow you to use your benefits as we have claimed them. And you will be taken to court. Cleo Care. “
On August 10, 2021, when another customer requested a refund, Cleo replied, “Refund denied. Please see the Terms of Service that describe your rights and our obligations and rights that will be imposed. Your EBB has also been claimed. You will not use our credit elsewhere and you will be issued an invoice and for collection. Cleo Collections. ” Cleo continued in a later email with this customer by saying, “[n]read more before ordering. Since we now no longer want to communicate. Any additional emails will result in harassment charges in Ohio. Cleo Legal. “
On August 12, 2021, Cleo stated to another customer, “[w]e do not ignore you, nor do we charge you. You have requested a refund and refunds are not given and were informed of this and someone would decide [sic] one would be issued or not. Please see- kyty.xyz/terms.html. Is what was sent to the FCC. With documents that you are and have not been ignored as your claims indicate [sic]. Cleo Legal Affairs.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.