The Federal Trade Commission asked a federal court to shut down a scam that targeted financially distressed Americans by pitching a phony debt relief and credit repair program, and by falsely claiming the program was provided and funded by the federal government and endorsed by President Obama.
The FTC’s complaint targets the operators of two websites that were allegedly full of misrepresentations about the fake program, which they called the “Bill Payment Government Assistance Program.” The sites claimed that the program was governed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, a government agency formed to oversee projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Beyond claiming affiliations with and/or endorsements from the Recovery Board, the Department of Treasury, and other federal agencies, the complaint alleges that YouTube videos created by the scam’s operators included a purported personal endorsement from the President with an audio recording of him saying, “I approve this message.”
The complaint alleges that the defendants purported to offer up to $75,000 in debt relief to consumers, along with promises that consumers’ credit scores would “increase within 30 days.” Consumers contacting the scammers, according to the complaint, were told that in exchange for an advance “service charge” of $900 to $1,100, the defendants would pay off the consumers’ debts.
According to the complaint, scammers would ask consumers for details of their outstanding debt, including account numbers, and then arrange bogus electronic payments that gave consumers the impression their debts were in fact being paid. The scammers would then tell consumers to pay the “service charge,” typically through money transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Once consumers paid the charge, the scammers would then reverse the payments made to consumers’ bills, leaving consumers without the promised debt relief or improvements to their credit scores or limits.
The FTC’s complaint charges the unnamed defendants with two counts of violating the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts or practices, as well as two counts of violating the Credit Repair Organizations Act’s prohibitions on collecting advance fees before providing credit repair services and making untrue or misleading representations about their services. The complaint asked the court to take steps to halt the scam immediately, as well as for a permanent order stopping the defendants’ activities and requiring them to give up their ill-gotten gains.
The FTC would like to thank the Better Business Bureaus of Washington, D.C. and Eastern Pennsylvania for their assistance.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 19, 2014, and the court issued a temporary restraining order on Aug. 21, 2014.
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 case will be decided by the court.
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 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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