The Federal Trade Commission charged two credit repair marketers with violating federal law by collecting advance payment for credit repair services and falsely promising to remove derogatory information from consumers’ credit reports – even if the information is accurate and not obsolete. At the Commission’s request, a federal court halted the defendants’ allegedly unlawful business practices and froze their assets pending further litigation. The FTC seeks to bar the defendants from further violations and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants marketed their “services” to consumers throughout the nation via an Internet Web site, www.lhcreditrepair.com, classified ads in USA Today, Thrifty Nickel, Common Cents, and www.americanclassifieds.com, and online listings such as www.kellysearch.com and www.aboutus.org. Statements on their Web site include, “Have you had a bankruptcy? We will repair your credit so that this past event does not haunt your future.” Consumers who called the defendants in response to their ads were told, “Anything that hurts you, we’re going to get it off of [your credit report].”
The complaint states that the defendants often led consumers to believe that accurate information on their credit reports might somehow be considered inaccurate and subject to removal. Even when consumers told them that the information was accurate, the defendants led consumers to believe that it could be removed. The defendants allegedly claimed they had special knowledge and expertise that enabled them to permanently remove negative information, including late payments, charge-offs, collections, tax liens, repossessions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and judgments, even when the information was accurate and not outdated.
According to the complaint, the defendants offer four levels of service ranging from $250 to $1,150 per person. They require an advance fee they call a deposit, which varies in amount, depending upon the program selected. On their Web site’s home page they claim, without qualification, that “[a]fter we have cleared your files we will stay with you for life, at no additional charge, to catch any other bad files that might show up.” Subsequent Web pages indicate, however, that only one of the four service levels includes the “for life” feature.
The defendants are Rudolph Joseph Strobel, a/k/a Lee Harrison, and Leanna Ruth Harrison, both doing business as Lee Harrison Credit Restoration, Credit Restoration, and Lee Harrison Associates Credit Restoration (LHCR), all located in Naples, Texas. They are charged with violating the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) and the FTC Act by falsely representing that they can improve consumers’ credit reports by permanently removing negative information, even when the information is accurate and not obsolete. The defendants are also charged with violating the CROA by requiring advance payment for credit repair services; and by failing to provide, before contracts are signed, the written “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law.” In addition, they are charged with violating the CROA by failing to include in their consumer contract a full and detailed description of the services to be performed, including all guarantees of performance and an estimate of the date by which the services will be performed; and failing to include a conspicuous statement about the consumer’s right to cancel the contract without penalty or obligation within three business days after the contract is signed.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division.
Additional credit repair information is available in “Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself,” at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/scre13.shtm. The FTC advises that only time, a conscious effort, and a personal debt repayment plan can improve your credit report. The first step is to learn what information is in your credit report. If you find errors or mistakes, federal law gives you the right to have them corrected – free of charge. Federal law requires that the nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, if you ask for it. To order your free report, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete and mail the Annual Credit Report Request Form.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been
or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.
The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
(Lee Harrison Credit Restoration)
(FTC File No. 0823141)