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Thursday, April 07, 2005

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The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0
Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at
http://www.ftc.gov and also 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.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

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The testimony stated that credit counseling can provide valuable
assistance to consumers in financial distress, and that many, if not
most, CCAs operate honestly and fairly. Consumers who fall victim to
the types of practices discussed in the testimony, however, “may find
themselves in even more dire financial straits than before,” Leary said.
He concluded that the FTC remains committed to working with its
law enforcement partners to protect consumers against financial fraud
and deception.

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Pay careful attention to the fees an agency charges, the nature of the
services it offers, and the terms of the contract;
Make sure that creditors are willing to work with the agency the
consumer plans to choose; and
Consider using agencies that offer actual counseling and education,
instead of simply enrolling all clients in DMPs.

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Leary explained that the FTC has engaged in extensive consumer
education efforts to help protect consumers from credit counseling
and credit repair scams. Most recently, the FTC and the Internal
Revenue Service (IRS) jointly issued tips for choosing a credit
counseling organization. Those tips advise consumers to:

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

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In addition to the AmeriDebt litigation, Leary explained that the
FTC’s law enforcement efforts currently include several non-public
investigations of credit counseling agencies. The Commission’s
testimony also mentions a February 2004 lawsuit against two debt
negotiation companies (Innovative Systems Technology, Inc., and
Debt Resolution Specialists, Inc.), a September 2002 lawsuit against
another debt negotiation company (Jubilee Financial Services, Inc.),
and numerous cases under the Credit Repair Organizations Act
(CROA), including sweeps like Operation Eraser and Operation
New ID-Bad IDea.

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The testimony listed several Commission actions, including a
November 2003 lawsuit against AmeriDebt – a large, Maryland-
based credit counseling firm that, according to the FTC’s complaint,
aggressively advertises itself as a non-profit dedicated to assisting
consumers with their finances. The FTC complaint further alleges that
AmeriDebt advertises its services as “free,” when in fact the company
retains a consumer’s entire first payment as a “contribution.”

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Failure to abide by telemarketing laws. To the extent that these
agencies are not bona fide non-profit organizations, they must comply
with the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including the National Do-
Not-Call Registry.
“The Commission has pursued a vigorous program to halt fraud and
deception by those who purport to be able to solve consumers’
financial difficulties,” Leary stated.

Monday, April 04, 2005

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Failure to pay creditors in a timely manner or at all. Some credit
counseling agencies that offer debt management plans may fail to pay
creditors in a timely fashion or at all. This can result in serious
consumer harm, such as late fees that the creditors impose.
Promises of results that cannot be delivered. Some agencies promise
that they will lower consumers’ interest rates, monthly payments, or
overall debt by an unrealistic amount. Some also make false promises
to eliminate accurate negative information from consumers’ credit
reports.

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Testimony Says that Some Firms Are Deceiving Consumers
Although credit counseling can provide financially distressed
consumers with valuable assistance, according to the Federal Trade
Commission, some firms may be misleading consumers about who
they are, what they do, or how much they charge. In Commission
testimony submitted today before the Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations,
FTC Commissioner Thomas Leary cautioned that some companies
use their non-profit status as a badge of trustworthiness to attract
customers, who are then duped into paying large fees. Those fees are
sometimes funneled to for-profit companies.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

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Credit bureaus usually are listed in the yellow pages of your telephone
book under "credit reporting agencies." Three large national credit
bureaus supply most credit reports: Equifax, Experian and Trans
Union. You may want to contact each of them for a copy of your
report.

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You're entitled to one free report a year if you can prove that (1)
you're unemployed and plan to look for a job with 60 days, (2) you're
on welfare, or (3) your report is inaccurate because of fraud.
Otherwise, a credit bureau may charge you up to $9.00 for a copy of
your report.

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Do-It-Yourself Check-Up
Even if you don't have a poor credit history, it's a good idea to
conduct your own credit check-up, especially if you're planning a
major purchase, such as a home or car. Checking in advance on the
accuracy of the information in your credit report could speed the
credit-granting process.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

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In addition, nonprofit counseling programs sometimes are operated by
universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities.
They're also likely to charge little or nothing for their services. Or, you
can check with your local bank or consumer protection office to see if
it has a list of reputable, low-cost financial counseling services.

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If you can't resolve your credit problems yourself or you need
additional help, you may want to contact a credit counseling service.
There are non-profit organizations in every state that counsel
consumers in debt. Counselors try to arrange repayment plans that
are acceptable to you and your creditors. They also can help you set
up a realistic budget. These counseling services are offered at little or
no cost to consumers. You can find the office nearest you by
checking the white pages of your telephone directory.

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Need Help? Don't Despair
Just because you have a poor credit report doesn't mean you won't
be able to get credit. Creditors set their own credit-granting standards
and not all of them look at your credit history the same way. Some
may look only at more recent years to evaluate you for credit, and
they may grant credit if your bill-paying history has improved. It may
be worthwhile to contact creditors informally to discuss their credit
standards.

Friday, April 01, 2005

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If you've had a problem with a credit repair company, don't be
embarrassed to report them. While you may fear that contacting the
government will only make your problems worse, that's not true.
Laws are in place to protect you. Contact your local consumer affairs
office or your state attorney general (AG). Many AGs have toll-free
consumer hotlines. Check with your local directory assistance.

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make false claims about their services;
charge you until they have completed the promised services; or
perform any services until they have your signature on a written
contract and have completed a three-day waiting period. During this
time, you can cancel the contract without paying any fees.
Your contract must specify:

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