Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Federal Trade Commission have jointly obtained a court order halting a massive phony debt relief operation that bilked millions of dollars from financially strapped consumers, including the elderly and disabled. According to the complaint filed by Attorney General Bondi’s Office and the FTC, Jeremy Lee Marcus, Craig Davis Smith and Yisbet Segrea, through 11 companies, convinced consumers to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month by falsely promising to pay, settle or obtain dismissals of consumers’ debts and improve consumers’ credit. After paying for the defendants’ services, consumers allegedly found debts unpaid, accounts in default and credit scores severely damaged. The scam even forced some victims into bankruptcy and some consumers were sued by their creditors.
“Despite alleged promises, the victims of this scam ended up with little or nothing to show for their payments and were made worse off financially,” said Attorney General Bondi. “I will continue to work with our federal partners to stop scammers targeting and exploiting consumers in search of financial help.”
The joint complaint alleges that the defendants made promises of guaranteed debt consolidation loans with attractive interest rates and significantly lower monthly payments. To appear more credible and legitimate, the defendants allegedly falsely claimed non-profit status. After consumers agreed to the purported loan, the defendants began debiting consumers bank accounts. According to the complaint, the defendants also called consumers already enrolled with other debt relief providers and falsely claimed to be taking control of the servicing of those accounts and providing the same or similar services.
Marcus, Smith, Segrea and their companies are all alleged in the complaint to have violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The court’s preliminary injunction order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting or assisting others in misrepresenting that the defendants will:
- Provide consumers a low interest rate loan to pay off consumers’ unsecured debts;
- Negotiate, settle or alter the terms of payment or other terms of consumers’ unsecured debts to reduce the balance, interest rate or fees owed to a creditor or debt collector;
- Eliminate consumers’ unsecured debts;
- Claim a debt relief program or service is offered or provided by a non-profit entity; and
- Claim a debt relief program or service will improve consumers’ creditworthiness.
The defendants are also prohibited from violating, or assisting others in violating, any provision of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
To view the preliminary injunction order, click here.
To view the complaint filed, click here.
Attorney General Bondi would like to express her thanks to the Federal Trade Commission for their continuing partnership in this case, as well as in other consumer protection efforts. Attorney General Bondi would also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida.
The corporate defendants are Financial Freedom National, Inc., f/k/a Institute for Financial Freedom, Inc. and Marine Career Institute Sea Frontiers, Inc., also d/b/a 321 Loans, Instahelp America, Inc., Helping America Group, United Financial Support, Breeze Financial Solutions, 321Financial Education, Credit Health Plan, Credit Specialists of America, American Advocacy Alliance and Associated Administrative Services; 321Loans, Inc., f/k/a 321 Loans, Inc., also d/b/a 321Financial, Inc.; Instahelp America, Inc, f/k/a Helping America Team, Inc., also d/b/a Helping America Group; Helping America Group, LLC, f/k/a Helping America Group, Inc.; Breeze Financial Solutions, Inc., also d/b/a Credit Health Plan and Credit Maximizing Program; US Legal Club, LLC; Active Debt Solutions, LLC, f/k/a Active Debt Solutions, Inc., also d/b/a Guardian Legal Center; Guardian LG, LLC, also d/b/a Guardian Legal Group; American Credit Security, LLC, f/k/a American Credit Shield, LLC; Paralegal Support Group LLC, f/k/a Paralegal Staff Support LLC; and Associated Administrative Services, LLC, also d/b/a Jobfax.
The relief defendants who allegedly profited from the scheme are JLMJP Pompano, LLC, 1609 Belmont Place LLC, 16 S H Street Lake Worth, LLC, 17866 Lake Azure Way Boca, LLC, 114 Southwest 2nd Street DBF, LLC, 110 Glouchester St., LLC, 72 SE 6th Ave., LLC, Fast Pace 69 LLC, Strategic Acquisitions Two, LLC, Halfpay International, LLC, Halfpay NV LLC, and Nantucket Cove of Illinois, LLC.