Cleo' Cited for Barrage of Telemarketing Calls
Protection Board Releases Report, "D
Detailing Misleading Sales Practices by Florida Psychic Service
|Contact: Jon Sorensen
||For Immediate Release: October 31, 2001
New York State Consumer Protection Board ("CPB") today issued
a formal notice to Access Resource Services, the Florida company
behind the television "psychic" Miss Cleo, citing the company
for more than 100 apparent violations of New York State's "Do
Not Call" Telemarketing Law. The alleged violations carry a maximum
fine of $224,000.
a Halloween press conference, CPB Chairman and Executive Director
C. Adrienne Rhodes also released a report, "Dialing
for Dollars," detailing the "scary" business tactics employed
by the booming psychic telephone industry.
Psychic Readers Network ("PRN") -- one of the many company names,
along with Access Resource Services, used by the "Miss Cleo" psychic
service -- harms the public through deceptive advertising and
other business practices that may mislead consumers, according
to the CPB report.
psychic phone business is more trick than treat ," Rhodes said.
"In fairness to callers and the public in general, it's time for
this business to change its practices."
George E. Pataki signed the "Do Not Call" Telemarketing Registry
on Oct. 12, 2000 and through the collaboration of several state
agencies the "Do Not Call" Registry now includes nearly 2 million
New Yorkers. The CPB began enforcement of the law in May, 2001
and the Notice of Apparent Liability against Access/PRN represents
the largest number of complaints against a single company and
the largest possible fine since that enforcement began.
has 30 days to respond to the Notice of Apparent Liability. Ultimately
this case can go before a CPB-based Administrative Law Judge who
can assess fines of up to $2,000 for each violation of the "Do
Not Call" Law.
key objective of the "Do Not Call" Law is to restore privacy to
the homes of New Yorkers and prevent the high-pressure telemarketing
calls that often force consumers to immediately buy products over
the telephone. Nationally, more than $40 billion is lost by consumers
each year as a result of fraudulent or misleading telemarketing
investigation was aided by New Yorkers on the 'Do Not Call' Registry
who have supplied us with phone numbers and other details about
the telemarketers who have apparently violated the law," Rhodes
said. "After today, we expect even greater compliance -- and even
fewer telemarketing phone calls -- as a result of these enforcement
addition to telemarketing calls, families and individuals across
the state have complained to Governor Pataki's Consumer Protection
Board that 'Miss Cleo' engages in deceptive sales practices; has
sold its services to minors; and has contacted hundreds of New
Yorkers with a deluge of telemarketing calls, e-mails and literature
that is misleading, unsolicited and unwanted," said Rhodes.
report details the problems faced by people who work as "stay-at-home"
psychics, answering phone calls for "Miss Cleo." It also reveals
"Miss Cleo's" real name (Youree Cleomili Harris of Miami, Fla.)
along with details on how the multi-million-dollar "psychic" business
CPB is calling on Access/PRN to stop illegal telemarketing calls
in New York State. It is also asking that Access/PRN terminate
a number of bad business practices that have allegedly been used
to sell its so-called "psychic" and tarot card service.
have no complaint with 'Miss Cleo,' the person and the alleged
'master psychic,'" Chairman Rhodes said. "Our concern is with
her employer and the misleading advertising that tricks people
into thinking they can obtain a 'free psychic reading' by calling
an 800 number. The CPB investigation reveals no such 'free reading'
is available because the so-called "psychics" can only be reached
by calling a 900 number, which carries a toll charge."
"free" time during the 900 call is generally used to gather names,
telephone numbers and address, not to give a 'psychic' reading.
Many people unexpectedly find themselves facing hundreds of dollars
in phone bills after calling for a "free reading."
so-called 'psychic' service appears to be a scam to keep people
on the telephone for as long as possible," Rhodes said. "A 'psychic'
phone operator can be fired if they don't maintain a 15-minute
information collected by "psychic readers" is then sold in order
to generate advertising for "Miss Cleo" and other companies, according
to the CPB report. "People who never had direct contact with a
psychic service can find themselves on mailing lists that bring
a flood of telemarketing calls, e-mail and other solicitations,"
time has come to end these misleading sales tactics in New York
State," Rhodes said. Several New Yorkers have complained that
they have received as many as 20 phone calls from 'Miss Cleo'
in a two- or three-week period. Some families, even elderly couples,
have received as many as three telemarketing calls in a single
V. and her husband, Ronald, are an elderly couple residing in
Syracuse who received numerous tape-recorded phone calls from
Miss Cleo. In these telemarketing calls, "Miss Cleo" urges people
to call her psychic line quickly because she has "urgent news"
to give them. This couple was already dealing with the stress
of an urgent situation.
husband had a heart attack and we just got home from the hospital
when we got a call (from 'Miss Cleo') at 8:30 p.m.," said Mrs.
V., describing one of four telemarketing calls from PRN. "So in
the middle of me trying to give him his medication I get another
phone call from this woman. It just irritates me…Who cares about
with other New Yorkers targeted by PRN, it is unclear how this
couple found themselves on a PRN telemarketing list.
questioned 'Miss Cleo' regarding its apparent telemarketing violations
in late June. The company denied that it violated the "Do Not
Call" Law, but we disagree. The company apparently continued to
place unsolicited telemarketing calls to New Yorkers," said Rhodes.
"With today's action, we expect PRN will take steps to fully comply
with New York's "Do Not Call" Law."
said many New Yorkers have received multiple phone calls, usually
recordings, urging them to call one of "Miss Cleo's" toll-free
numbers. While "Miss Cleo" advertises an 800 number for a "free
psychic reading," consumers complain -- and the CPB investigation
confirms -- that no such service is provided on the 800 telephone
number advertised by "Miss Cleo." So-called "psychics" are only
available on the 900 lines operated by PRN.
recorded telemarketing calls and e-mails, "Miss Cleo" urges New
Yorkers to call to learn important information. In one e-mail,
the message urged the recipient to call by a certain date to discuss
a "serious health problem." "Who knows how many people may have
been scared into calling this phony psychic service?," asked Rhodes.
CPB report also details the problems faced by the people hired
to be "psychics" on the Psychic Readers Network. The network in
most cases charges $4.95 a minute after the initial, free minutes.
Psychics are generally paid only if they keep callers on the line
for at least 10 minutes. They won't get more phone calls to answer
-- and make more money -- if they don't maintain a 15- to 20-minute
average for all calls.
CPB report also questions the loose standards used in selecting
and hiring these so-called "psychics" because of the potential
misuse of the personal information gathered on customers by these
"psychic readers," Rhodes said.
listed on the Do Not Call Registry can file complaints by calling
1-800-697-1220 or by filling out a form on the CPB's Internet
website at http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/.
Complaints are not valid until 30 days after a Registrant's number
appears on one of the quarterly updates of the registry.
on the state's "Do Not Call" Telemarketing Registry is free of
charge. New Yorkers can register by calling toll-free at 1-866-622-5569,
via the web at http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/ or
by writing to the "Do Not Call" Registry at P.O. Box 2078, Albany,
New York State Consumer Protection
5 Empire State Plaza, Suite 2101, Albany, New York 12223-1556