I am constantly accused of targeting this company or that company but in truth I’m so busy writing about the next thing to cross in front of me I don’t have time to have anyone on the radar. I say that because I find myself writing something that involves a company I’ve written about before, Freedom Debt Relief, a debt settlement company.
The following press release put out by Freedom Debt Relief crossed my desk this afternoon.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / PRURGENT
SAN MATEO, CALIF., March 15, 2010 — Freedom Debt Relief (FDR) has received the Goldline certification for excellence among debt settlement companies.
The Goldline certification indicates that the company is a leader among peers in its industry, explains Andrew Housser, CEO of FDR. “Goldline’s stamp of approval is a meaningful indication that an independent third party has confirmed FDR’s position as a forerunner in the debt settlement industry.”
In its certification process, Goldline researches and evaluates professional service providers through a multi-step method designed to identify those businesses that stand out among their peers. The firm conducts extensive primary and secondary research, including executive, employee and customer interviews, and evaluates company results with industry-specific benchmark data.
Through its findings, Goldline is able to identify companies that meet four criteria: exceed their industry’s standards for professionalism; maintain an excellent record of ethical business dealings; stand among the best service providers in their industries; and boast a time-tested record of success. Goldline published its evaluation of debt settlement companies in the March issue of Forbes.
“The Goldline certification is especially important in the debt settlement industry,” says Housser, “as it is a business that can be confusing, and which some have considered suspect when it comes to working with consumer finances.” The third-party evaluation and certification, he explains, confirms FDR’s approach to, and success in, helping consumers struggling with unmanageable debt effectively, efficiently and fairly.
A debt settlement firm, such as FDR, negotiates directly with creditors on consumers’ behalf to resolve debt balances, lowering principal balances due. Offering an alternative to credit counseling, debt consolidation and bankruptcy, FDR’s debt settlement programs help qualified clients fully resolve their debts, typically in two to four years.
Something resonated in the back of my hollow but melodic skull about Goldline so I had to go look them up once again at GoldlineResearch.com. As I remembered, Goldline is not an independent certification company like a Consumers Reports, they screen companies in various categories and to sell placement of the company name in an advertisement, like the sample below, that appears in Forbes.
Goldline says they go through a 7 step process in checking out companies that appear in their advertisement in Forbes. Goldline also says they “look for service providers that are among the best in their industries, exceed their industry’s standards for professionalism, have no lawsuits or grievances from clients against them and have a time-tested track record of success.” – Source
But here is what struck me, I remembered that Freedom Debt Relief had at least one open lawsuit against them and when I went to check I found they actually have at least two. I didn’t bother to check on a state level. Source, Source. And last I heard Freedom Debt Relief was still involved in the State of New York investigation of the debt settlement industry by the Attorney General. – Source. And according to the BBB they have an F rating and 227 complaints filed against them. – Source. So on that basis alone, how did Freedom Debt Relief make the Goldline list?
It’s also important for readers of the advertisement in Forbes and consumers to understand that the list is not a top of the field list. As Goldline itself says:
Goldline does not produce “Top 10″ lists. Goldline offers those companies that receive the Goldline certification the opportunity to participate in cooperative marketing in national publications such as Forbes and Fortune.
So will Freedom Debt Relief will use their appearance in the paid advertisement in Forbes as some seal or mark to entice consumers to use their services as if they were certified by an independent entity? Why it appears they are. It’s already on the home page of their site.
In order to appear in the Goldline Forbes advertisement Freedom Debt Relief appears to have purchased the ‘Publication in Forbes in “Leading Providers” Listing’ package for $4,500. That package includes:
- One-time publication in national edition of Forbes magazine.
- One (1) copy of the issue of the magazine in which the listing appears.
- “As Seen In” placard.
- “As Seen In” PDF and listing artwork PDF.
- Listing on ForbesCustom.com.
- Use of aforementioned artwork for twelve (12) months from date of publication.
- Limited to no more than ten (10) participants.
Goldline sells this listing service as a sales tool. “Selection onto a Goldline Research research guide provides a unique opportunity to attract new clients.
So when Freedom Debt Relief says:
“The Goldline certification is especially important in the debt settlement industry,” says Housser, “as it is a business that can be confusing, and which some have considered suspect when it comes to working with consumer finances.” The third-party evaluation and certification, he explains, confirms FDR’s approach to, and success in, helping consumers struggling with unmanageable debt effectively, efficiently and fairly. – Source
Really? It appears to mean, in my opinion, that a debt settlement company that has at least two active open lawsuits (did not check on the state level), 227 BBB complaints (79 in the last year) and is under investigation by the State of New York Attorney General is apparently a leader in the debt settlement field. No wonder some have considered the debt settlement field suspect, as the press release so accurately points out.
At the time of publication I asked Goldline Research for clarification on their screening process. I am still waiting for them to get back to me.