Two debt reduction companies and their principals have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they violated federal law by falsely claiming that they could reduce consumers’ credit card interest rates or the amount of their credit card debt. Terms of the settlements, in which the defendants have not admitted liability, are defined in stipulated orders entered by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on January 31, 2008.
According to a complaint filed by the FTC in March 2007, the defendants sold debt reduction services through Web sites and television and radio advertisements with claims such as “Reduce Debt Now” and “Eliminate Harassing Calls.” When consumers called a toll-free number, the complaint alleged, they were encouraged to enroll in a “debt consolidation program” if their unsecured consumer debt was up to one month overdue, or a “debt settlement program” if overdue longer.
The FTC alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act by falsely promising to obtain lump-sum settlements, such as “fifty cents on the dollar” or “50 to 60 percent” of consumers’ total unsecured debt, or to negotiate with creditors for lower interest rates. The complaint also alleged that they misrepresented that they would not charge consumers any up-front fees before obtaining the promised debt relief, and that participation in their program would stop creditors from calling or suing them to collect debt.
The settlement orders prohibit the defendants from engaging in the violations alleged in the complaint, and require them, when making representations about specific debt reductions they can achieve, to disclose truthfully key terms of the program: all fees and costs they charge, including when and how such fees and costs will be paid by consumers; the approximate time period before settlements will be achieved; and the fact that consumers’ balances typically will increase before settlements for all accounts are achieved. The defendants also agreed to standard compliance and reporting provisions that enable the FTC to monitor future compliance with the orders.
The settling defendants are Debt-Set, William Riggs, Leo Mangan, Resolve Credit Counseling, Inc., and Michelle Tucker. The settlement orders contain suspended monetary relief of $1 million. Mangan has paid $40,000, and Resolve Credit Counseling and Michelle Tucker have paid $350,000. If any defendant is found by the court to have misrepresented the sworn financial statements provided to the Commission, a $1 million judgment will be imposed, less any payments already made.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the proposed stipulated final orders was 5-0. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
NOTE: These stipulated final orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendants of law violations. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the orders are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.