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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, June 22, 2009
These days, an offer to get you a credit card interest rate “as little as 6.9 percent” is especially enticing, considering that even the best cardholders have recently been hit with rate increases, new fees and account limitations.
But take the bait of that prerecorded telephone promise, warns the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the only change you’ll likely find on your credit card is a charge for up to $1,000. What you get in return, the BBB says, you could have done for free by calling your credit card company and asking for a rate reduction.
In recent months, nearly 200 consumers say they have been bilked by three companies—CTRS Solutions Inc. and Genesis Capital Management, both of Orlando, Fla., and Mutual Consolidated Savings of Tacoma, Wash.—that already had F ratings by the BBB for past business practices. The consumers complain that the companies did not get them a rate cut and then failed to uphold their money-back guarantees.
What’s more, the BBB charges, those companies place automated robocalls to home and mobile telephones, sometimes as early as 4 a.m. This wave of robocalls follows a similar ruse that began in 2007, in which callers were selling fraudulent auto warranties—a scheme that has generated 30,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and resulted in lawsuits against several companies.
These new robocalls typically leave a recorded message that starts: “This is our final attempt to reach you since you’ve not responded to our other calls to discuss your credit card debt.” The calling companies are not identified, and recipients are told to dial another number to speak with a live person.
BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick, who says she receives several robocalls a month for credit rate reductions, made that call. “They wouldn’t tell me any information until I would give them my credit card number. When I told them I wasn’t going to give my number to someone I didn’t know, they hung up on me,” Southwick said.
Genesis Capital Management president David Allen tells Scam Alert that his firm does not make robocalls, and they are “likely being made by disgruntled ex-employees.” He says he will personally refund money to dissatisfied customers.
Christopher Hulbert of Mutual Consolidated Savings says his company, which generated half the BBB complaints, stopped making robocalls in 2006. However, more than a dozen complaints have been filed with the Washington state attorney general since then, alleging that Hulbert’s firm continues to make such calls.
Officials at CTRS could not be reached for comment.
Allen and Hulbert say their services, which cost $600 to $1,000, include “comprehensive” debt reduction kits, including books and computer software. Yet past customers say these kits provide little more than common-sense advice, such as “pay your bills on time.”
To protect yourself against scams:
“Try to get as much information as possible about the company—including their telephone number, when they call and why they are calling,” suggests FTC spokesman Mitch Katz. Sometimes, the actual service providers hire third-party telemarketers who make robocalls or other telemarketing calls. “But they are responsible for their telemarketers’ calls,” Katz adds.
In September, new rules take effect to halt prerecorded sales calls unless the seller first gets the recipients’ permission.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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