This story goes all the way back to October 2008, when Justin Bieber was just another upstart teen singer from Canada and Robert Pattinson was about to take the world by storm in the first Twilight film (As if you didn’t know those two things already).
Back then, the couple sold a service through their various businesses — BFS Empowerment Financial Services Inc., Help My Credit Now Credit Services Inc., and Kevtrese Enterprises Inc. — that they claimed could substantially improve consumers’ credit profiles and credit scores by permanently removing negative information from consumers’ credit reports, even in cases where that information is accurate and not obsolete.
Once the Federal Trade Commission got wind of the scam, it brought a Civil Enforcement Action against the couple, asking a federal court to permanently enjoin the defendants “from deceptively selling credit-repair services, credit cards, or any other credit-related product or service in violation of federal law.” The FTC also sought restitution payments in excess of $7 million.
All of which was ultimately granted in January 2010, when the court agreed to the FTC’s request for a summary judgement, finding overwhelming evidence that the couple had violated the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organization Act, the Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rules.
In total, the court ordered injunctive and monetary relief in the amount of $7,443,732, and barred from ever making such claims again.
And yet, earlier this year, the FTC learned that the couple were violating the court order by continuing to make deceptive claims about its credit-repair service.
In July, the couple confessed to violating the terms of the permanent injunction, and just recently, the court ordered them to pay $6.4 million to the FTC within 30 days and permanently shut down their credit-repair business.
To help consumers avoid credit-repair scams, the FTC has the following tips for identifying too-good-to-be true offers:
* The company wants you to pay for credit repair services before they provide any services. Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, credit repair companies cannot require you to pay until they have completed the services they have promised.
* The company doesn’t tell you your rights and what you can do for yourself for free.
* The company recommends that you do not contact any of the three major national credit reporting companies directly.
* The company tells you they can get rid of most or all the negative credit information in your credit report, even if that information is accurate and current.
* The company suggests that you try to invent a “new” credit identity — and then, a new credit report — by applying for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security number.
* The company advises you to dispute all the information in your credit report, regardless of its accuracy or timeliness.