The funder and servicer of the payment plans used by consumers to pay for expensive and often ineffective investment “trainings” from Online Trading Academy (OTA) will be required to offer debt forgiveness to consumers under a proposed settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
Universal Guardian Acceptance, LLC (UGA) and Universal Account Servicing, LLC (UAS), have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they facilitated consumers’ payments to OTA, when they knew or should have known that OTA was deceiving consumers.
“These defendants helped Online Trading Academy run its investment training scheme for years, ignoring clear signs that they were profiting off the backs of defrauded consumers,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies that facilitate payments can’t turn a blind eye when their clients are defrauding consumers.”
In February 2020, the FTC brought a lawsuit alleging that OTA had deceived consumers with false and unsupported claims that purchasers of its investment training were likely to generate significant income. OTA charged consumers tens of thousands of dollars for its training and offered financing to enable consumers to pay OTA, in the form of short-term, high-interest retail installment contracts. UAS underwrote and serviced the contracts, and UGA provided funding for OTA’s operations by agreeing to purchase substantial quantities of the contracts in advance.
In its complaint against UGA and UAS, the FTC alleges that they facilitated OTA’s deceptive scheme by underwriting, funding, and servicing OTA’s retail installment contracts. The FTC alleges that the companies ignored red flags that OTA was engaged in deception, including consumer complaints, a high cancellation rate, and the fact that the vast majority of purchasers were not paying off their debt within the six month no-interest grace period included in the contracts.
The FTC settled with OTA in September 2020. As part of that settlement, OTA offered debt forgiveness to consumers who owed OTA money on their retail installment contracts.
Under the proposed settlement announced today, UGA is required to offer debt forgiveness to OTA purchasers whose debt is held by UGA. These consumers were not eligible for debt relief under FTC’s September 2020 settlement with OTA because their debt was not held by OTA. UGA is required to give these consumers notice of the offer of debt forgiveness and consumers will have 45 days to request forgiveness from UGA.
The proposed settlement also requires UGA and UAS to exercise adequate due diligence when screening potential clients, closely monitor clients that claim consumers can make money using their products or services, and to investigate consumer complaints.
The Commission vote approving the complaint and stipulated final order was 4-0. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
NOTE: Stipulated final orders or injunctions have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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