At the request of the FTC, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against Marc and Courtney Grisham and two companies they operate, Disruption Theory LLC and Emergent Technologies LLC, which do business as inmatecall.com and inmatecallsolutions.com.
In its complaint, the FTC alleges that the operators advertised and marketed calling plans for unlimited minutes, which they did not provide. Prison and jail calls are provided by specialized service providers, which have contracts with correctional facilities and charge for calls at predetermined per-minute rates. Specialized service providers have not and do not currently offer unlimited calling plans. This is the first case the FTC has brought involving inmate calling plans.
The FTC alleges that the operators of the scheme preyed on inmates’ families and friends who rely on phone calls to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person visitation has been suspended at prisons—and may be looking for cheaper calling options given the high cost of per-minute calls.
“These defendants ripped off families with loved ones in prison, selling them fake calling plans that were supposed to allow unlimited calls with those inmates,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Especially with COVID-19 restrictions now in place, the phone is a lifeline for these families, who shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of exploitation.”
According to the complaint, inmatecall.com and inmatecallsolutions.com charged prices ranging from $29.97 for one month of their purported “unlimited” service to $49.97 for three months, and $89.97 for a year.
After consumers paid for their chosen plan through the website, they were told they would still have to open and fund a separate, prepaid account with the specialized service provider approved by their correctional facility. The FTC alleges that the scheme’s operators also made it difficult for consumers to reach the company and receive refunds, generating hundreds of complaints.
The FTC alleges that Marc and Courtney Grisham and their companies violated the FTC Act.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on October 6, 2020.
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