Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Falsity
According to the Consumer Services Protection Commission’s website, it’s a “National consumer protection agency and works For the Consumer to help avoid fraud, deception, and/or unfair business practices in the financial assistance marketplace.” The site went on to talk about the agency’s role in enforcing the law and educating consumers about how to “spot and avoid fraud and deception.” On the right was a blue and gold logo with the scales of justice and the winged wheel of commerce.
Look familiar to you? It sure did to us. But more importantly, according to a complaint filed by the FTC, it’s likely it looked familiar to consumers. The FTC has alleged that the site was the creation of Christopher Mallett, a San Antonio-based lead generator who used it to lure people struggling to pay their bills. He then referred them to companies selling mortgage, tax, and debt relief services with promises that their debts would be reduced or eliminated, the FTC charged.
The complaint also says that Mallett deceived consumers by using the name of another fictitious agency he called the U.S. Mortgage Relief Counsel. His FHA-HomeLoan.info website featured a picture of the U.S. Capitol and promised that the “Counsel” would direct consumers to “officials licensed with the National Mortgage Licensing Service (NMLS), persuant [sic] to the SAFE act of 2008.” According to the complaint, neither Mallett nor any of his sites have ever been affiliated with the FTC or any other government agency.
Mallett allegedly claimed that people who responded to his solicitations could have their debts substantially reduced. One “success stats chart” purported to show that people’s debts were settled for 16%-40% of the amount owed. These claims were false or unsubstantiated, the FTC charged. The complaint also alleges violations of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in D.C., is ongoing. In the agency’s announcement of the case, the FTC thanked the Tennessee and AGs’ Offices for their assistance.