Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Carmel on the Case: Credit Fix Fiasco
Now is the time those holiday bills start trickling in. But if you're struggling to make your payments, you're not alone. Many people are so desperate, they hire debt management companies. But in tonight's "Carmel on the Case," investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero found a "credit fix" left one young woman - "in a fix."
WSVN -- 23-year-old Stephanie Vogel has money trouble.
She has $3,000 in credit card debt, and is being called by creditors who want to be paid.
Stephanie Vogel: "Once you get behind on a credit card - there's no catching up."
So she went online looking for help and found the center for credit counseling services.
Stephanie Vogel: "I was just browsing and I found them and I talked to them and they sounded very reasonable."
For a fee, it offers to negotiate payments with creditors. Then it takes out a set amount of money from customer checking accounts each month and sends payments to creditors.
Stephanie Vogel: "But that never happened. My creditors still constantly contacted me."
The money was taken out of her account, but her bills were not being paid.
She lives in Kansas City. The Center for Credit Counseling services is in Deerfield Beach.
Cheryl Chambers: "What we had was, we had a computer problem."
Cheryl Chambers is a part owner and chief financial officer for the Center for Credit Counseling Services.
After we contacted her, she sent Stephanie Vogel a full refund -- plus extra money to cover late payment penalties.
Cheryl Chambers: "Instead of just giving her the five hundred dollars, I gave her a check for $942."
But it turns out chambers has other unhappy customers. The Better Business Bureau reports more than 50 complaints against the center for credit counseling services. All of them claim payments to creditors were not made.
Brodie White: We're considering this a pattern. These complaints read like they're coming from the same person and they're coming from all over the country."
And 7-News has learned Cheryl Chambers was once a corporate officer for Gibson Trust and Goldstar Financial Services. The state of Florida has accused both debt companies of deceptive and unfair trade practices.
Brodie White: "Gibson Trust was a major scandal in South Florida in the consumer credit counseling business."
White says hundreds of people lost money when Gibson Trust filed for bankruptcy after failing to pay customer bills.
Cheryl Chambers: "That was years ago and I resigned from them because of things that were going on."
Chambers showed me print-outs of thousands of checks that have been sent out to creditors and says she is trying to solve each and every consumer complaint.
But she admits her prior associations and the current complaints could look suspicious.
Cheryl Chambers: "Definitely. I should sit here and lie to you and say no I couldn't understand it? It's not the case, but I can understand it."
The Better Business Bureau says it will send complaints about the Center to the Florida Attorney General's Office for investigation. There are tons of debt negotiation services so before you sign up - sign on to investigate a company's history.
For more information,or if you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or In Broward at 954-921-CLUE