(KTVI) - A Florida company that charged a Missouri couple nearly $2,000 after promising to reduce their credit card payments appears to be operating similarly to several other telemarketers that have been targeted by federal authorities in recent months.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests caution when dealing with WBE Management of Orlando, Fla. The Florida Department of State lists Nicole Hitt of Summerville, S.C., as the company’s manager. Records show WBE was registered on Oct. 29, 2012.
“I’m mad as hell,” said a woman from St. Charles, Mo., who said she and her husband were victimized by WBE. Her husband claimed that WBE and another Orlando company, Loyal Financial & Credit Services, misled and pressured him into paying $1,995 in return for a promise to help cut the couple’s credit card payments.
The St. Charles case is similar to numerous other cases across the nation involving credit card debt telemarketing schemes. In November, the Federal Trade Commission filed federal court actions against five telemarketing companies seeking to end what the FTC alleged were illegal operations. WBE Management and Loyal Financial were not among the companies sued by the FTC.
BBB records show several Illinois and Missouri consumers among those claiming to be duped by companies cited by the FTC. The FTC said that after making payments the consumers “typically find that the companies do little or nothing to lower their credit card interest rates.”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said that representatives of both WBE and Loyal Financial & Credit Services also appear to be tied to other Florida businesses that have been the focus of BBB complaints. One of those companies, Royal Financial Solutions, has logged more than 30 complaints from 18 states.
Most consumers said they paid Royal between several hundred and $2,000 each for credit card relief services they did not receive. The company did not respond to half of those complaints. Royal has an “F” rating with the BBB, the lowest possible.
“Consumers desperate for help in reducing credit card debt should be extremely careful,” Corey said. “To pay upfront fees to a telemarketing company – especially a company that seems to be making grand promises to reduce your credit card debt -- simply is not a good idea.”
Hitt of WBE, and her father, Harry Wahl of Orlando, are listed as managers of H & K Marketing of Orlando, which is no longer in business. Hitt also uses the name Niki Wahl-Hitt.
The BBB in Orlando says that consumer complaints in 2010 alleged that H & K took advance payments from consumers for debt consolidation services. Once the fee is paid, the BBB said, “the consumer never hears from the company again.” Wahl has told the BBB that his company was never involved with any of those complainants and that all of the complaints should have been filed against another company.
H & K has ties to Swan Marketing of Orlando, also known as Swan Financial. Swan has an “F” rating with the BBB, the lowest possible, for failing to respond to consumer complaints.
Both Loyal Financial & Credit Services and Royal Financial Solutions list Kevin Guice of Orlando as manager. Guice’s Orlando address also has been by H & K Financial on H & K’s website.
The couple from St. Charles said they had been receiving automated telemarketing calls for two months offering credit card relief help. They ignored the calls until about two weeks ago, when the husband decided to speak to a telemarketer. He said he was on the phone more than three hours as a telemarketing representative phoned credit card companies acting as his advocate. Near the end of the conversation, the husband was told he owed $1,995 for the companies’ services.
The man said he had never agreed to the fee. “I was turning red; I was angry,” he said. He said the telemarketer insisted that he pay the money and convinced him to authorize the charge to his Discover card. He said he was tired, and he believes the telemarketers simply wore him down until he agreed to the charge. Now the couple wants the money back.
They say they do not know how much money – if any – the businesses saved them on their credit cards. Despite requests, they said the companies have never provided them with a contract.
The Missouri case is similar to other cases involving H & K, Royal and Swan.
A woman from Plymouth, Mass., said she agreed to pay Royal $1,499 in February 2011 for help in reducing her credit card payments. The company kept the money but did nothing, she said. The woman described the ordeal as “really scary” and said she is convinced Royal and companies like it are taking advantage of people desperate for help. “They’re just not good people,” she said.
A man from Elko, Nev., said H & K had guaranteed that it could reduce his credit card balance by $2,500 for a fee of $990. He said he got nothing for his money and ultimately was forced to negotiate with his credit card company to get H & K’s fee removed from his card.
The BBB could not reach Hitt, but spoke briefly with her father, Harry Wahl, who said he helped his daughter run WBE. He declined to respond to specific questions about the company and declined to give contact information for Hitt.
“We don’t want to be involved with the Better Business Bureau,” he said. “Give us whatever rating you want; we don’t care.”
BBB phone calls to WBE either were not returned or were disconnected.
The BBB also attempted to contact Guice or another representative of Loyal Financial & Credit Services through a phone number on Loyal’s commercial telephone seller license, which is on file with the state of Florida. That call was not returned.
The BBB offers the following advice to consumers receiving telemarketing solicitations by businesses promising to reduce credit card debt:
- A business should not contact you if you are on state or federal “do not call” lists and do not have a prior business relationship with the business. You should report unwanted calls to state or federal authorities.
- Do not be taken in by oral promises that a business can reduce your credit card payments for an upfront fee. Never authorize any payment until you have thoroughly checked out the business and scrutinized any contract carefully.
- In most cases, a third party cannot do any more to negotiate credit card charges than you can do yourself. Contact your card companies directly to talk about reducing interest rates and payments.
- Be wary of giving out any credit card information to strangers calling on the phone.