by Barbara Nevins Taylor
It’s risky and a bad idea to deal with debt settlement companies. But many desperate people who want to improve their credit fall for phony sales pitches. It’s welcome news that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took legal action to shut down a company that helps debt settlement operations collect illegal fees.
The CFPB alleges that Meracord LLC, a leading debt-settlement payment processor based in Washington state, helped companies collect millions of dollars in illegal upfront fees from consumers. It asked a federal district court to approve a consent order that would require Meracord and its CEO and owner, Linda Remsberg, to halt all illegal activities and pay a $1.376 million civil penalty.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, “By taking a stand against those who facilitate illegal activity, we can root out harmful behavior across the debt-settlement industry and better protect consumers.”
HOW DEBT SETTLEMENT COMPANIES WORK
- Companies promise to eliminate credit card debt by negotiating with creditors.
- Consumers are often told to stop paying their bills and instead make a payment to a processor like Meracord while the deal is worked out.
But it’s illegal to take fees for a service like this in advance and the CFPB says Meracord processed thousands of these illegal advance fees after October 2010. Meracord allegedly helped debt-settlement companies charge millions of dollars in unlawful fees to more than 11,000 consumers in multiple states. Nearly 5,000 of those consumers’ accounts were closed without any of their debts being settled.
Meracord and its owner agreed to a settlement that would bar both from collecting payments for debt-settlement companies and for members of the related mortgage-settlement industry.
This is the latest CFPB action against the debt-settlement industry. It is also going after other companies. It won judgments against Payday Loan Debt Solution, Inc. and American Debt Settlement Solutions, Inc. The CFPB also filed a complaint against four others: Mission Settlement Agency, the Law Office of Michael Levitis, Premier Consulting Group, LLC, and the Law Office of Michael Lupolover.