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FTC Targets Sites Selling Int'l Driver's Permits

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed six complaints in federal district courts against Internet and e-mail operators who hawk international driver's permits (IDPs) for $65-$375 each. According to the FTC, the IDPs are "worthless documents" pitched to immigrants and other consumers who were seeking an alternative to a government-issued driver's license or identification document.

The FTC said authentic IDPs, which are available in the U.S. from only two authorized agencies, the American Automobile Association (AAA)and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are available for $10 each and have a very limited use and purpose.

In each complaint, the FTC alleges the defendants falsely claim that their IDPs are a legitimate alternative to a state-issued driver's license, and misrepresent that their IDPs authorize consumers to drive legally in the U.S.; allow users to avoid points or traffic violations, as well as sanctions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license; and can be used in the U.S. as an identification document in the same ways that a person uses a government-issued photo identification document.

In each matter, the FTC is seeking either temporary and permanent injunctive relief, as well as other relief as deemed appropriate by the court, to prevent current and future violations of the FTC Act. An FTC official said in five of the six cases, asset freezes had already been obtained and that any of the defendants still operating the bogus Web sites are in contempt of court.

"The defendants deceptively marketed bogus documents," said J. Howard Beales III, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "They misled people with limited English proficiency and those whose licenses have been revoked about the value and the purpose of the IDP. And they charged them exorbitant fees. We're pleased that the FTC can put this scam in park."

Legitimate IDPs, which are issued pursuant to the United Nations Road Traffic Convention of 1949, assist a person with a valid driver's license to drive in foreign countries that have also signed the Convention. Notably, an IDP is not a substitute for a government-issued driver's license; rather it is simply a booklet that translates that government-issued driver's license into a number of different languages.

IDPs do not protect their holders from traffic enforcement or from "points," and IDPs cannot be used in place of suspended or revoked license, or identification in lieu of a government-issued document.

"The FTC's action helps alert consumers to these scams, while letting bogus marketers know this conduct won't be tolerated," said Sandra Hughes, vice president of AAA Travel. "These scams lead innocent travelers to spend hundreds of dollars for false documents. Even worse, they encourage unlicensed drivers to return to our highways, endangering all of us."

The FTC filed complaints against Yad Abraham, also known as (a.k.a.) Tim Thorn and Timothy Thorn, individually and doing business as (d.b.a.) Sharpthorn Internet Solutions and Internex, LLC; Jaguar Business Concepts, d.b.a. Libertymall.com, Cheyenne Investment Alliance, and Jacqueline Demer, individually and as member/manager of Cheyenne; and Jordan Maxwell, a.k.a. Russell Pine, individually and doing business as BBCOA, a.k.a. BBC of America, a.k.a. Better Book and Cassette of America, and Vic Varjabedian, a.k.a. Victor Varjabedian, a.k.a. Varouj Varjabedian, individually.

Complaints were also filed against William Scott Dion, individually and d.b.a. PT Resource Center and PTRC, a.k.a. Don Glessner; Carlton Press, Inc., Carlton Press, Ltd., and Kim Fleming Bo Weiss; and one or more parties d.b.a. the Institute for International Licensing (IIL), Aladdin Financial Management, University Systems, and Wheelie International Limited.

Specifically, the FTC alleges:

  • Abraham and his fellow defendants conducted a nationwide scheme to sell worthless IDPs through the drivelegal.com Web site. The defendants contended that the documents met all the conditions of the U.N. Convention and that they could be used to avoid many types of driving sanctions, such as points. The defendants further claimed the IDP would allow users to obtain auto insurance and rent cars, neither of which was true. Their IDP costs $350, plus shipping and handling.
  • Libertymall.com sold supposedly authentic IDPs, claiming they were developed in compliance with the U.N. Convention. Claiming that their documents would enable visitors to become "permanent tourists," the defendants charged consumers $65 per IDP, which the FTC alleges was simply a laminated card. Each card was signed by a purported "agent" of the so-called International Travel Association.
  • The IDPs BBCOA sold over its Web site at a cost of $85 each were nothing more than a laminated card and an IDP booklet that closely resembled a real IDP, except that they contained a seal of the so-called International Travel Association. In addition to selling supposedly authentic IDPs, the defendants also marketed credit repair services and "debt termination programs," and the FTC's complaint contains additional allegations regarding these activities.
  • Operating since at least 1995, PTRC's Web site contained statements very similar to those found on the LibertyMall.com and BBCOA Web sites. In addition to providing a supposedly real IDP for $65, the defendants went as far as informing consumers exactly what to say if stopped by the police and stressing that "Your IDP is perfectly valid if used in a lawful manner. Following these tips will greatly increase your success rate, and minimize contact with 'Big Brother.'"
  • Operating since at least October 2000, Carlton Press used two Web sites to pitch their supposedly real IDPs for $147 each. The booklets they offered were exactly the same as those sold by BBCOA and PTRC.
  • Institute for International Licensing (IIL) also sold their permits over two Web sites, pitching them as a way for consumers with poor driving records or revoked or suspended driver's licenses to get around the system. Consumers wishing to buy a permit from their Web site were asked to mail in certain personal information, while those responding to spam messages were instructed to call a recorded line. Either way, the result was the same, consumers were sent two IDPs, along with a rubber stamp bearing the company's logo and instructions for using the document.