What do you get when you mix a fraction of truth and a whole lot of lies? The FTC’s case against scammers who allegedly operated websites that promote a fictitious “Bill Payment Government Assistance Program” — a debt relief program claiming to pay consumers’ bills and repair their credit in exchange for an advance fee.
In its complaint, the FTC alleges that American Bill Pay Organization and American Benefits Foundation claimed to be non-profits affiliated with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (also known as the “Recovery Board”) — a real federal agency that was created as part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the “Recovery Act”) to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and mismanagement of Recovery Act funds. Lie number one: American Bill Pay Organization and American Benefits Foundation are not non-profit, nor do they have any government affiliation. In fact, representatives from the Recovery Board regularly fields calls and complaints from consumers confused by the scammers’ lies.
The FTC alleges that the scammers further deceive consumers by misrepresenting that — for an advance fee of $900 to $1,100 paid via wire transfer service — American Bill Pay Organization or American Benefits Foundation will pay up to $50,000 of consumers’ bills, including mortgages, credit cards, medical and utility bills, or student or automobile loans. More lies. Based on FTC interviews with victims, it appears that the scammers temporarily paid some consumer bills, but only to encourage payment of their fees. The payments were later reversed, causing consumers to incur overdraft fees, other additional penalties, and, occasionally, account closures.
The insult to injury lie: Not only did victims get no relief from their debts, these scammers also broke the law when it took advance fees. You see, federal law bars the collection of any money for credit repair service before the service is fully performed.
Many people face a financial crisis at some point in their lives. Whether the crisis is caused by personal or family illness, the loss of a job, or overspending, it can seem overwhelming. But often, it can be overcome. Your financial situation doesn’t have to go from bad to worse.
If you need help dealing with debt, contact a credit counselor. A reputable credit-counseling agency should send you free information about its services without requiring you to give details about your financial situation or pay any money before they provide services.