New Hampshire, Merrill Lynch reach $400,000 accord

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state continued its crackdown against unlawful telemarketing on Tuesday by announcing a $400,000 settlement with Merrill Lynch for calling people who have asked not to be called by telemarketers.

The settlement, handled by the Bureau of Securities Regulation, is the state's sixth telemarketing-related settlement in recent years. A $750,000 settlement with Edward Jones this year is one of the largest telemarketing-related settlements in history.

"The bureau continues to take a strong stance on telemarketing abuses and, moving forward, will not hesitate to pursue any licensee of our office who fails to follow applicable telemarketing rules," Bureau Deputy Director Jeffrey Spill said.

Thousands of calls from Merrill Lynch, a New York-based financial services company, to New Hampshire residents since 2011 violated telemarketing laws, although it is difficult to track exact numbers, said Adrian LaRochelle, staff attorney for the bureau. Data from the Federal Trade Commission show nearly 1.2 million New Hampshire numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry this year, the highest number per capita of any state. This year, the trade commission received nearly 15,000 complaints from New Hampshire residents.

As part of the settlement, Merrill Lynch has agreed to pay the state $400,000, stop its illegal activities and provide better supervision and training for its agents making telemarketing calls. The bureau's investigation found agents were calling people listed on both the national do not call list and Merrill Lynch's do not call list.

Merrill Lynch said it was addressing the issue.

"We have worked closely with the state on this matter and have strengthened our internal controls to help prevent any inappropriate calls in the future," Merrill Lynch spokesman Bill Hallbin said.

Of the settlement money, $50,000 will pay for the bureau's investigation and the remaining $350,000 will go into the bureau's Investor Education Fund. Any money not used from that fund will go into the state's general fund.

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