Beware of Credit Counseling Scams

Some of the worst scams involve offers to help consumers fix their credit. Our nation is so entrenched in credit use; many will inevitably get behind on their payments. This common malady affects at least one person you know, if not you, personally.

Credit card companies, banks, stockbrokers, stores, and other financial institutions make it sound so easy; who could resist. No interest! No payments until July! No annual fee! Just fill in this form, and you can buy all the things you really can’t afford!

We are sucked into this system easily, but getting out of debt can be extremely difficult and stressful. All these credit providers’ promises become insults and threats as soon as you cannot pay for all the things they promised you could have when you filled out that form.

Many people do not know how to get caught up. Their situation may have changed since they applied for the credit and ran the bill up. They may have lost a job, had a baby, had an illness in the family, or had some other disaster strike which meant they could not make payments they had once agreed to.

The credit providers don’t offer much help. They offered you the credit. Now they want their money. They didn’t worry about whether they were giving you more credit than you could really afford. It’s not their problem. It’s your problem.

Then, here you are. You owe them money. The collectors call and send you notices threatening to take your house, your car, or ruin your credit rating. They tell you that if you do not pay, there will be dire consequences.

Then you see the ad or find the website that says, Credit Counseling. Let us help you get out of debt and get those bill collectors off your back for you. You’re saved! Look, it’s even a not-for-profit organization. They are just there to help me. Where do I sign?

That’s where the trouble begins. Many companies have gotten into this lucrative venture and prey on stressed-out people and have nowhere to turn. The credit card companies who recruited them so vigorously before have now abandoned them. The government isn’t offering to help. Revenue Canada still wants their taxes. And now the knight in shining armor, the credit counseling service, comes to the rescue.

The ad may say Consolidate your bills into one low monthly payment, No Borrowing, Use Federal and Provincial law to keep your property from being foreclosed by creditors, Wipeout your debts, Stop Garnishments, Stop Collectors from harassing you, Keep your property from being repossessed, or other equally great sounding phrases that look just exactly like what you need.

But don’t get sucked in a second time. If you think the credit card companies sucked you into debt, you haven’t seen anything yet compared to what a disreputable credit counseling company can do to you.

Some of these companies offer to help you eliminate your debt. If you get an email like that, delete it. If you find a website that says that, hit the back button and go somewhere else. Do not walk, run!

Sometimes, the best answer is to negotiate directly with the creditor. Be firm. Tell them what you can actually afford to pay. Do not promise more than you can deliver. They really have to take what you can actually pay if they want you to pay them off eventually. Avoiding them doesn’t work.

Many of these scams do not tell you what they actually charge, and their fees can be worse than what you already owe. These companies will try to avoid giving you straight answers to your questions about their fees and have hidden costs they may not disclose at all. They know you turned to them because you are afraid your credit is about to be ruined and that they can pressure you into paying them later.

They also don’t tell you they are receiving a portion of whatever payments you are making to your creditors through them. That’s one of the ways they hide what they make from you.

Some of them will take the payments from you, then not pay your creditors with it on time, or in some cases, not pay your creditors at all.

Never pay a credit counseling service an up-front fee to fix your credit or give you counseling or anything else. Many of these companies are only in place to make money from collecting that fee and never provide you with any credit counseling or other services at all. They’ve made their money and gone on to the next victim.

Many credit counseling scams are under investigation by the government, and those claiming to be nonprofit are being investigated by Revenue Canada. Their nonprofit status is in danger of being revoked.

However, our government agencies will not save you. These unscrupulous credit counseling services will change their business names and be right back in business bilking consumers in no time at all as long as there is a buck to be made. Only your common sense can keep you from being ripped off by credit counseling scams.

Check them out with the Better Business Bureau. Search their company name online to find others who have used their service. Do not believe testimonials that appear on their own website or ones they send you in an email. They can make those up.

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