When Vickie Ames went to hang up the phone in 2008 and heard, "Yes, we have another one!" she knew she made a terrible mistake. The newly widowed sexagenarian from Birmingham, Ala., had just given her credit card number to Transcontinental Warranty, a company that sold extended warranties for vehicles through robocalls that were handed off to high-pressure salesmen. "They are incredibly good at what they do," Ames said. "It never occurred to me during that call that it was a scam." Ames' Nissan Murano was only a year old when she received the call and was still under the manufacturer's warranty. Ames recouped her $290 down payment with a call to her credit card company. On Monday, Steve Wigginton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, issued charges against Christopher Cowart, the 49-year-old owner and president of Transcontinental Warranty, and Chris Sagnelli, the 45-year-old vice president, for violation of a fictitious name statute. Both men pleaded guilty to the charges that carry a possible penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Telemarketers told potential customers that they were calling from the "Warranty Service Center," which the charges alleged was a "fictious name," implying that the call was from the warranty service center of the automobile manufacturer or dealer where the customer bought the vehicle. Cowart and Sagnelli, both of Florida, will be sentenced March 21.
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