Telemarketers selling dubious debt assistance plague consumers in U.S. and Canada
Arlington, VA – June 9, 2009 - Consumers across the U.S. and Canada are sounding off to Better Business Bureau about incessant automated telemarketing calls promising to lower interest rates on their credit cards. Not only are the calls a nuisance and violate U.S. and Canadian Do-Not-Call laws, but some companies behind the calls are ripping off consumers by charging large up-front fees to negotiate lower interest rates with credit card companies—something consumers can do on their own for free.
According to figures cited by the White House in January, credit-card debt increased 25 percent in the past 10 years, totaling $963 billion – with per household credit card debt at nearly $9,000 now. Knowing that so many families are drowning in debt, telemarketers offering suspect financial assistance are taking full advantage of the situation. Consumers have reported receiving calls as early as three in the morning and on both their cell and home phones even when they have registered the numbers with federal Do-Not-Call lists. Consumers also tell BBB that, despite their requests to the telemarketers to stop calling, the calls continue to come.
“Similar to telemarketing calls claiming your auto warranty is expiring, calls offering to lower credit card interest rates also seem to have complete disregard for federal laws,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “These telemarketers are not forthcoming about the company they’re calling on behalf of, but BBB has identified some offenders by working with consumers who, unfortunately, paid for assistance in reducing their interest rate.”
BBB has received numerous complaints about two Orlando-based companies, CSTR Solutions, Inc. and Genesis Capital Management, and one Tacoma-based company, Mutual Consolidated Savings. All are behind at least some of the robocalls and are promising to save people anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000 by negotiating lower interest rates with credit card companies.
Robocalls generally begin with recorded messages that include statements like: “There are no problems currently with your account, however it is urgent that you contact us concerning your eligibility for lowering your interest rates to as little as 6 point 9 per cent.” or, “This is our final attempt to reach you since you've not responded to our other calls to discuss your credit card debt.” The automated message invariably does not include the name of the company, but may claim to be with Card Services or Card Holder Services. Complainants note to BBB that they now believe the calls were designed to deceive them into thinking their credit card company was contacting them.
After the initial recorded message, consumers must dial another number to be connected to a live person. The live “operator” usually starts the sales pitch by asking for the consumer’s credit card number and whether the consumer is interested in lowering their interest rates. From there, callers begin closing the sale, asking if the consumer is willing to pay – usually from $700 to $1,000 - to have their firm contact the credit card company and negotiate lower rates.
“The ‘negotiation’ undertaken by these companies can be as simple as calling the customer service number listed on the back of the consumer’s credit card and asking a customer service representative to lower the interest rate,” added Cox. “Consumers are fully capable of talking to credit card companies on their own, for free, and getting similar results. Consumers simply don’t need to pay any company a thousand dollars to negotiate lower rates on their behalf.”
According to BBB complaints, companies are failing to uphold money-back guarantees and not refunding money in cases where they are unsuccessful in lowering rates.
BBB offers the following advice for consumers who receive robocalls from companies offering to lower their interest rate:
• Never give personal information, including Social Security, bank or credit card numbers, over the phone to an unknown telemarketer. Always research the company first by reviewing its Reliability Report at www.bbb.org.
• When considering any company offering any type of financial assistance, insist on getting a contract in which all terms and conditions are clearly explained before signing up or providing credit card or other payment information.
• U.S. consumers can place their home phone number on the federal Do Not Call list by visiting www.donotcall.gov. If the consumer’s number is already on the list but continues to receive telemarketing calls—or is receiving robocalls on a cell phone—he or she can use the same Web site to report the incident to the FTC. Canadian consumers can learn more at www.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca.
For more information or to schedule an interview with a BBB spokesperson, contact Alison Southwick at 703-247-9376.
BBB, the leader in advancing marketplace trust, is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 125 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than four million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about BBB.