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Don't Be the Victim of a Debt Relief Scam

An alluring pitch, “We can reduce your credit card interest rates!” managed to get consumers from all over the country to pony up $149 to $599 for debt relief help they didn’t get, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Last week, the FTC announced a court froze the assets of a telemarketing agency that the FTC believes violated federal law.

The company in question, Premier Nationwide Corporation, allegedly cold-called consumers, promising to get them lower interest rates on their credit card debts. Those who took the bait and paid the fee were then sent a list of low-interest-rate credit cards and told to apply for them on their own. Or they were told they could enroll in a Debt Management Plan, requiring them to close all their credit card accounts -- and pay a monthly fee for the administration of the DMP.

[Article: How to Get Help if You've Been Scammed]

I have a strong sense of deja vu while writing this. Early in my career (pre-Internet), consumers would send $4 to the non-profit organization for which I worked, and we would send them a list of low-rate credit cards. Every so often, we would find out that some marketer had copied our list and was selling it for tens or hundreds of dollars. Eventually, the crooks would be shut down or disappear, and all would be quiet until another one surfaced.

The FTC listed numerous violations of the FTC Act in its complaint against the company. Most involve alleged violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, a federal law that prohibits marketers from charging and collecting an advance fee before renegotiating, settling, reducing or otherwise altering consumers’ debts. In fact, the firms may not charge a fee until at least one debt has been renegotiated or settled. The FTC also alleges that the company misrepresented its refund policy. Those who were told refunds were available if they weren’t satisfied (not everyone was offered the option) were unable to get their money back when they realized they weren’t going to get what they thought they were buying.

[Free Resource: Check your credit for free before applying for a credit card]

We’ll Help You For Free

Are your credit card rates too high? You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for help. You can:

** Consider transferring your balance to a credit card with a zero percent APR introductory rate. (Our credit card expert Beverly Harzog recent looked at the Best Balance Transfer Cards in America.) Or look for lower interest credit cards that are specifically designed for people with your credit standing.

** Learn how to negotiate directly with your credit card company to lower your rates. Read my article in which I interview a credit card negotiation expert here.

** Create a plan to get out of debt using an online tool like SavvyMoney.

Can’t do it on your own? Before you sign up with a debt relief firm, learn here how the Telemarketing Sales Rule protects you.

[Credit Cards: Research and compare low APR credit cards at Credit.com]

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Credit.com provides readers with unique insight, helpful tips and straight answers about their financial world. Our team of reporters and experts explore credit, loans, debt, saving, and identity theft topics, all designed to help you make smarter financial decisions. Visit Credit.com to sign up for your FREE Credit Report Card and find out where you stand today!

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Gerri Detweiler Credit.com's Personal Finance Expert, Gerri focuses on financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and consumer savings information. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis. Reach Gerri at gerri@credit.com.

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