Feds Shut Down Debt Relief Companies That Only Relieved Customers Of Their Cash

We occasionally have the TV turned on in the background here at the Consumerist Batcave, so we know that anyone in the market for a sketchy debt-relief firm has many, many options to avoid calling. But now there are a few fewer questionable companies littering the daytime airwaves because the Federal Trade Commission has halted the operations of four services that allegedly made false claims about being lawyers, debited money from people who did not actually order the services — oh, and failed to get any significant debt relief for the customers that actually signed up.

The companies — Nelson Gamble & Associates LLP, Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight LLC, BlackRock Professional Corporation, and Mekhia Capital LLC — are all owned by the same man and all marketed and sold debt relief services promising that qualified attorneys would settle consumers’ debts for substantially less than they owed.

One company boasted of settling more than $90 million of debt in a single year and claimed its “proven tactical methods” would decrease customers’ debt “by 50% to 80% of your total outstanding balances… Typically, you can be free from debt in three years or less.”

But the FTC complaint says that few, if any, debts were ever settled by the defendants.

The companies and the man who owns them have been charged with violating the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by making false and deceptive claims and by causing consumers’ bank accounts to be debited without their express, informed consent.

From the FTC:

They also allegedly violated the TSR by charging advance fees for debt relief services, calling phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, calling consumers who had told them not to call, failing to transmit caller identification to consumers’ caller ID service, delivering prerecorded messages without consumers’ prior written consent, repeatedly calling consumers to annoy them, and delivering prerecorded messages that failed to identify the seller, the call’s purpose, and the product or service. In addition, the defendants allegedly violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E by debiting consumers’ bank accounts on a recurring basis without their written authorization, and without providing consumers with a copy of the authorization.

“Giving people false hope by promising to reduce their debt is bad enough,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But stealing their money by debiting their bank accounts without their permission is beyond the pale.”