Ads on 17 Websites Featured Misleading Claims, False Ties to Government Assistance Programs, and Phony Testimonials, FTC Alleges
The Federal Trade Commission charged an Ohio-based company and its owner with fraudulently claiming on 17 websites they operated that consumers could quickly get out of debt by working with one of several debt settlement companies. The company owner, Ryan Golembiewski, has agreed to a settlement barring the deceptive claims, and to a judgment requiring him to pay more than $390,000.
United Debt Associates, were “lead generators” paid by debt settlement companies to refer consumers who responded to the deceptive ads, according to the complaint. Using websites such as legitimatedebtsettlement.com, debtreliefemergency.com, DebtDecreaser.com, freedebtreductionhelp.com, and disputedebts.com, and earning approximately $24.60 per lead generated, the defendants directed consumers to either provide their contact information online, or call a toll-free number for help with their credit card debt. Consumers who called either were routed directly to the debt settlement companies or were asked to provide preliminary information to the defendants, the complaint stated.
According to the complaint, the deceptive claims the defendants used to entice consumers to contact them included:
- “Once creditors agree to make a deal, you can get out of debt from 12 to 36 months.”
- “The U.S. government decided to introduce a stimulus package to boost the financial institutions and prevent them from breaking down. Part of this stimulus money is being utilized by the [c]redit card companies to offer debt settlements to the users.”
- Debt settlement companies “can take all of your outstanding debt and not only eliminate at least 50% of it but also provide a realistic repayment plan for the rest of your debt.”
- “If you play your cards right, your debt problems will vanish before the first year ends.”
Purported consumer testimonials on the defendants’ websites, which conveyed the impression that consumers could successfully and quickly reduce or eliminate their debts by using the supposed debt settlement services the defendants advertised, were not genuine, the FTC alleged. The defendants did not have support for the claims they made that the debt settlement companies would substantially reduce or eliminate consumers’ debts, according to the complaint. Instead, they merely posted claims provided by the debt settlement companies, or copied information from other debt relief websites.
In addition to the judgment of more than $390,000, the settlement bans the defendants from engaging in or assisting others to engage in any debt relief service, and bars them from making any misrepresentations when marketing a financial product, or any good or service. The settlement requires substantiation for any benefit, performance, or efficacy claim for financial products, and it prohibits disclosure of customer information and requires the defendants to destroy all such information they have within 30 days after the settlement order is approved by a judge.
For consumer information about debt relief, see Money Matters: Debt Relief Services.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and approving the proposed settlement order was 5-0. The FTC filed the complaint and proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, and it was entered on October 4, 2012.
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 defendants have actually violated the law. The settlement order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Settlement orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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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