Three California-based student loan debt relief companies and their owner have agreed to be permanently banned from the debt relief business in order to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they falsely promised to lower or eliminate consumers’ student loans in return for an illegal upfront fee.
The FTC also alleged that the companies and their owner, Adam Owens, failed to disclose that they paid consumers for positive Better Business Bureau (BBB) reviews.
“These companies promised people that they could get their student loans forgiven, which was more than they could deliver,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “To learn what relief you might be able to get to repay your federal student loans, go to StudentAid.gov/repay.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, SLAC (which also uses the name Aspyre), Navloan, Student Loan Assistance Center, and Owens told consumers that, for an upfront fee of $699 and a monthly fee of $39, the defendants would permanently lower or eliminate consumers’ student loans. In reality, consumers’ payments could change every year, and loan forgiveness is not guaranteed for any consumer.
The FTC also alleges that beginning as early as November 2015, the defendants offered consumers a $20 gift card or check to write a positive review about their services on the BBB’s website, and neglected to tell the reviewing consumers to disclose that they had been offered an incentive to provide the review.
The complaint also alleges the defendants incorrectly advised consumers about how to state their family size in applications to the Department of Education (ED) and, in some cases, falsified consumers’ family size without their knowledge.
The defendants have agreed to a stipulated final order that has been submitted to the court. The judge has postponed action on it for 60 days because of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) outbreak. (For more information about the COVID-19 outbreak and student loans, go to StudentAid.gov/coronavirus.)
If entered by the court, the settlement would ban the defendants from providing debt relief services while allowing them to continue helping existing consumers complete forms and submit documents to ED as part of the yearly recertification process, but only for those consumers who expressly choose to have the defendants provide this assistance. Consumers who choose not to accept the defendants’ help should recertify directly with ED, through their servicer, or via some other mechanism. The order would further require the defendants to turn over more than $470,000 in assets, after which the remainder of the $23.9 million judgment would be suspended due to defendants’ inability to pay.
The Commission vote approving the complaint and proposed stipulated final order was 5-0. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
NOTE: The stipulated final order does not have the force of law until approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition and protect and educate consumers. Learn more about consumer topics at consumer.ftc.gov, or report fraud, scams, and bad business practices at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Follow the FTC on social media, read consumer alerts and the business blog, and sign up to get the latest FTC news and alerts.
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