Two new defendants have been named in a Federal Trade Commission case against a phony debt relief and credit repair scheme that allegedly deceived consumers about non-existent federal programs to pay off their bills and fix poor credit.
The case against the unnamed perpetrators of the debt relief and credit repair scam, which operated under the names American Bill Pay and American Benefits Foundation, involved false claims the federal government funded the program and that it was endorsed by President Obama.
The court had granted a temporary restraining order in the case last August to shut down the scam. Since that time, the FTCs investigation and discovery in the case led to two individuals, Sereika Savariau and Lawrence Goodison, who the FTC alleges in an amended complaint operated the scam from Jamaica.
The amended complaint was accepted by the court, and the case remains in litigation. The FTC is seeking to have the scam permanently dismantled and obtain refunds for consumers who paid for the scammers phony debt and credit services.
Beyond claiming false affiliations and endorsements, including the U.S. Department of Treasury's alleged approval, the original complaint alleges that YouTube videos created by the 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 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 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.