In September of 2013, the federal court in the State of Florida helped the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in their quest to crack down the lingering debt relief scams that are trying to prey on struggling American consumers.
According the the press release found on the FTC.gov site, the court found the defendants to be guilty of violating the FTC Act by doing the following:
Misrepresenting the interest rate reduction services on credit card debts.
Misrepresenting policies about refunds.
Sending unauthorized billing to consumers.
Direct violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
This is just one of the many stories of fraudulent companies that the government is trying to track and shut down to protect the unsuspecting consumers. They are actively campaigning to help consumers learn how to avoid debt relief scams so they will not be swindled out of their hard earned money.
Illegitimate debt relief companies prey on the desperate
The thing about debt problems is it will really cause you to go for desperate measures just to save what little money that you have left. Some people are attracted by “too good to be true” campaigns that are simply just that – too good that it ends up being a fraud.
The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) reports that in 2011, the FTC reported that 10.8% of Americans are a victim of fraud. That is equivalent to 25.6 million. The survey from the FTC that was discussed in the BBB article mentioned how most fraud cases happen online. Although the convenience of transacting on the Internet is there, you need to be very careful because a lot of people are easily victimized by all sorts of scams. One of them are debt relief scams.
Among the type of scams on the survey, Credit Repair rank 6th place with 1.7 million victims. On 7th place are debt relief scams that victimized 1.5 million consumers. Mortgage relief scams rank number 10 with 800,000 victims.
According to the FTC survey, a high percentage of the victims did not finish high school or have had a recent negative experience like divorce, illness or a job loss. Those who admit to having a lot of debt are also among the people who are most likely to be a victim of these fraudsters.
Obviously, nobody wants to be a part of this statistic. And since these people are really very sneaky, all you can really do is to do your research and find out how they go about scamming people. Here are 5 signs that you are about to be a victim of debt relief scams:
Upfront fees. One defining characteristic of legitimate debt relief companies is the fact that they are able to provide services without asking for upfront fees. This is one quick way of knowing if you are dealing with a fly-by-night company or an established one. The legitimate ones try to earn your trust by showing you that they mean business and they are not collecting anything before they have done their job.
Fraudulent practices. There are fine lines in debt relief and even in credit repair that scammers are not too scared to cross over. This is a perfect example of the means not justifying the end. One glaring example is being advised to secure new social security numbers. This is a wrong practice and should not be tolerated. Illegitimate companies would be the type to ask those in debt to consider this to start over a clean slate.
Absolute promises. Debt is a case to case basis and there are varying degrees of work that is needed to be debt free. But this knowledge comes only after knowing and assessing every situation carefully and looking at different scenarios and debt relief programs. Scammers will most likely skip this critical step and give big promises of eliminating your debt is given at the start
Leaving everything to chance. Debt brings an overwhelming emotion of fear and stress. This is a bad combination and we usually jump on the first “lifeline” thrown our way without thinking it through. Debt relief scams know this and exploit this very weakness debtors have. It is tough but composing oneself and checking emotions outside the door before making decisions will go a long way. It is important to know the background of the companies by researching first and dealing with them after.
Foregoing the fine print. There are people with a knack for reading between the lines. But this should not be the case with debt relief companies. The fine print explains all the general and vague clauses in the agreement. This explains all the details of the contract between debtor and debt relief company. Once you are forced to sign right there and then without being given time to read the fine print, better think twice about the company you are transacting with.
When faced with the decision of choosing a debt relief company to work with, keep in mind these tips to avoid falling into the trap of scammers.
The TSR: how to spot the illegal ones
The Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) is a law that provide consumers with the protection they need against malicious companies that offer debt relief scams. According to the business.FTC.gov release about the TSR, companies who do not follow these rules are most likely operated by scammers. One of the latest addition to this law is covering not only outbound calls but it includes inbound calls as well.
Here are the important points in this debt relief law that will help you determine the legal companies from the not.
Illegal upfront fees. TSR has made it illegal for debt relief companies to front-load their fees. This is meant to protect the consumers because illegal companies will just collect fees and just prolong your debt problems or worse, disappear without a trace.
If the debt relief company is doing multiple settlements for you one after the other, they are allowed to collect after every successful negotiation with your creditors. Another option is similar to an escrow account where you deposit money to a separate account meant to pay the debt relief company after the transaction is done.
Disclosing information prior to closing. Being an advocate of consumers, the TSR compels all debt relief companies to disclose all basic and pertinent information to their potential clients before signing them into a contract. This protects the consumers by ensuring they are well aware of all aspects of the contract before signing.
This could include the timeline on when the debt relief company could deliver on their promise. It could also be about the costs involved and how much all the fees would be paid at the end. Another would be the negative effects of employing their services in terms of credit standing. These and more are important to be reminded of before signing any contract.
Misrepresentation. Illegal debt relief companies will promise you the stars and the moon just to get you to sign. This is in violation of the TSR too. Debt relief scams will promise you a huge reduction on your debt and most probably in a short span of time. These are too good to be true and they might be. Ensure that the services being offered by your debt relief company are legitimate and something they will be able to accomplish for you.
If you want to file a complaint on debt relief companies that scam people, visiting the FTC website at www.ftc.gov or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261 can get you talking to the right people in no time.
Learn what you can about these laws and your rights as a consumer. That way, you will be protected from debt relief scams. They always come up with new ways to trick you out of your money so make sure you will stay vigilant.
Diana hates debt just as much as you do. She is a finance writer for National Debt Relief. She aims to provide the best information to win the battle against debt.