The Federal Trade Commission has asked a federal court to shut down a debt relief and credit repair scam that falsely claimed the federal government funded the program and that it was endorsed by President Obama.
The complaint targets the operators of two websites that were allegedly full of misrepresentations about the fake "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.
The operators were not identified but the scheme did business as American Bill Pay Organization and American Benefits Foundation, according to the FTC's complaint. The companies websites, www.americanbillpay.org and www.benefitsfoundation.org, were both down on Friday.
Beyond claiming false affiliations and endorsements, including the U.S. Department of Treasury's alleged approval, the FTC's complaint alleges that YouTube videos created by the scams operators included a purported personal endorsement from President Obama with an audio recording of him stating, "I approve this message."
The complaint alleges that the defendants promised to offer up to $75,000 in debt relief to consumers, along with assurances 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.
Scammers would ask consumers for details of their outstanding debt, according to the complaint, including account numbers, and then arrange bogus electronic payments that gave consumers the impression their debts were in fact being paid. The scammers then would 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 FTCs complaint charges the unnamed defendants with two counts of violating the FTC Acts prohibition on deceptive acts or practices, as well as two counts of violating the Credit Repair Organizations Acts bans 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 all ill-gotten gains.