FORT MYERS, Fla. - Millions of Americans are struggling with debt and turn to debt settlement groups for help. But WINK News Call For Action has a warning for consumers.
"Basically, this company was saying "OK, you have all this debt and we can settle it for approximately 45 percent of the debt," U.S. Postal Inspector Robert Clark describes a debt collection firm.
"They tell the customers stop making the monthly payments to the creditors, stop speaking to the creditors as long as you can make one monthly payment to us," Clark said.
Customers are asked to sign a three year contract and if they do all of their debt will be paid off. Sounds like a great deal, right? Wrong.
The catch: hidden fees and charges.
"Some of the victims that we've spoken to admitted 'I didn't even ask what the fees were,'" Clark said, "because they were so happy to stop paying all the credit cards and pay one monthly fee that was affordable."
Relief quickly turned to anger when consumers realized the money they were paying had not been sent to creditors.
"A lot of the victims called once they realized there was no money in their escrow accounts. The company would then point to the stipulation in the contract that says they're allowed to collect these fees," Clark said.
Postal inspectors say in one case there were more than 1,300 victims and $3 million in dispute. Customers had nowhere to turn.
"A lot of these creditors filed lawsuits against these people. A lot of these people had to go to court They were sued and had judgments against them and a lot of them had to file for bankruptcy," Clark said.
Moral of the story: read a contract very thoroughly. If you don't, you could end up being a victim of a scam.