CFPB Sues Debt-Relief Companies Illegally Posing As Federal Government

The
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed suit in federal court
against two companies operating under the name “FDAA,” a service provider, and
their owners for falsely presenting FDAA as being affiliated with the federal
government. The CFPB also alleges that FDAA’s so-called “debt validation”
programs violated the law by falsely promising to eliminate consumers’ debts
and improve their credit scores in exchange for thousands of dollars in advance
fees. The CFPB’s lawsuit seeks to end these deceptive practices, obtain redress
for harmed consumers, and impose civil money penalties.

“FDAA
and its owners lied to financially vulnerable consumers to line their pockets
with cash,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today’s lawsuit seeks to stop
these deceptive practices, impose civil money penalties, and return to cheated
consumers the fees they paid to these companies.”

Federal
Debt Assistance Association, LLC and Financial Document Assistance
Administration, Inc., both operating as FDAA, are headquartered in Baltimore,
Maryland. FDAA claims to provide advice and assistance to consumers to
eliminate all or a portion of their debts and improve their credit scores.
Clear Solutions, Inc., also headquartered in Baltimore, processed consumer payments
for the FDAA companies and provided other services.

Vincent
Piccione, David Piccione, and Robert Pantoulis own or owned the FDAA companies
and Clear Solutions. Vincent Piccione was the president of and managed the FDAA
companies, with responsibility for their marketing materials and solicitation
of consumers. David Piccione was the telemarketing sales floor manager of the
FDAA companies, managed the telemarketing sales of the companies, and
participated in the development of the companies’ marketing materials. Robert
Pantoulis was the director of client services of the FDAA companies and was
responsible for their debt-management programs.

The
CFPB’s lawsuit alleges that the companies lied about having an affiliation with
the federal government to lure financially vulnerable consumers into paying
thousands of dollars in illegal advance fees. The CFPB alleges that the FDAA
companies falsely promised consumers debt relief and credit repair through
so-called “debt validation” programs that involved contacting creditors to
dispute debts.  Under federal law, when a debt has been timely disputed,
the debt collector must cease collection until it can obtain verification of
the debt. But the FDAA companies falsely claimed to consumers that the money
owed would be eliminated or reduced if the creditor did not respond to the FDAA
companies’ satisfaction. These practices violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street
Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the companies and their owners engaged in
the following illegal practices:

  • Deceiving consumers about an affiliation with the
    federal government:

    The FDAA companies marketed themselves through direct mailers that were
    designed to look like an official government notice. The mailers stated that
    they were a “regulatory notification” with a case number and “entitlement
    amount.” The mailers and envelopes included a seal similar to the Great Seal of
    the United States. FDAA’s direct mailers and telemarketing scripts deceptively
    misrepresented an affiliation with the federal government. In letters sent to
    consumers, FDAA would falsely claim they can assist consumers in retrieving
    restitution from CFPB enforcement actions in the form of credit-card debt
    reduction.
  •  Deceiving consumers about the companies’ debt-relief
    and credit-repair services abilities:
    FDAA lied about the results that could be
    achieved. The companies falsely advertised that they would eliminate or reduce
    consumers’ principal balances by at least 60 percent, that creditors would be
    unable to collect the debts, and that the programs would increase consumers’
    credit scores.
  • Failing to make proper disclosures about not paying
    debts:

    FDAA instructed consumers to stop making payments on the debts enrolled in
    their program. However, they failed to disclose that not making payments may
    result in the consumer being sued by creditors or debt collectors and may
    increase the amount of money the consumer owes due to the accrual of fees and
    interest.
  • Taking illegal advance fees for debt-relief and
    credit-repair services:
    Federal law prohibits the collection of fees before a
    credit-repair or debt-relief company achieves certain results. FDAA charged and
    received payment of fees for debt-relief services before altering the terms of
    consumers’ debts. The companies also charged and received fees for
    credit-repair services without achieving the promised results.

Under
the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against
institutions and individuals violating consumer financial protection laws,
including engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. The complaint against Federal Debt Assistance Association, Financial Document
Assistance Administration, Clear Solutions, Vincent Piccione, David Piccione,
and Robert Pantoulis seeks monetary relief, injunctive
relief, and civil money penalties. The CFPB’s complaint is not a finding or
ruling that the companies or individuals have actually violated the law.

A
copy of the complaint is available here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201710_cfpb_FDAA-complaint.pdf

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The
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps
consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently
and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more
control over their economic lives. For more information, visit
consumerfinance.gov.

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.