How to Get Your Money Back From a Debt Relief Company if You Feel Like You’ve Been Scammed

Here is my definitive guide on how to get out of a scam and get your best shot at getting your money back. Warning, it will take some work, but it can be effective.

“The steps listed in How to Try to Get a Refund From a Debt Relief Company should represent a consumer dropping a “nuclear bomb” on any business.”, says a settlement company president. – Source

Here is some advice from Damian Kutzner, who went to prison for a debt relief scam. When asked What Advice Do You Have for People Who Feel Like They Were Caught in a Debt Relief Scam?, he said, “Show up to their place of business if you live close, sales offices hate that.

Find as many names working at the office most importantly the owners. But don’t stop there get the secretary, the mailroom names and make everyone uncomfortable for taking your money. As the old saying goes “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” It is true in sales. Be the loudest online voice with multiple postings and make a complaint with the CFPB and the BBB. Make a police report.

Submit your SCAM to as many Pro Consumer/Pro Active bloggers and websites as you can.

We used to HATE when Steve Rhode and GetOutOfDebt.org wrote about us. It made our skin crawl. We had to confront it! Which exposed us.

USE THE RESOURCES THAT ARE OUT THERE and DON’T STOP. You will get your money back if you become their biggest headache. Don’t be the fly they try to brush away.” – Source

“Thanks to Steve and GetOutofDebt, we were able to recover enough to pay our bankruptcy lawyer, leaving about $3500 in the hands of the company we trusted. As I look back, they caved in pretty easily, not wanting us to peruse the letter writing to FTC, two state attorney generals, and others. It’s likely I could have pushed for more.

Steve, I can’t say this enough. The [education] you provide is of the greatest value to people like us. All of us.”

     Gymdez

A Reasonable Refund Request Process

I’m going to break this process down into logical stages. You need to keep tabs on the items in these stages, so get a shoebox, folder, or just a special drawer to throw all the documentation in as it comes in or you gather it.

I’m starting with the premise that you are in a debt relief program or have paid for some other ongoing service you are not happy with and want out. I’m assuming you have received little to no benefit from the program.

Step 1 – Easy

Start by calling or emailing the company you are having an issue with. Give them a chance to deal with your issue, and if you can’t negotiate a resolution that seems acceptable to both you and the company, then it’s time to start documenting your concerns.

If the company responds in a prompt and satisfactory way, your problem is solved.

Step 2 – Time to Get a Shoebox or Small Box Ready

If the company didn’t professionally deal with your issue in the first easy step, then we are going to have to start getting focused and organized. You will need a drawer or small box to start keeping documentation in like a copy of letters you physically send, proofs of delivery, the company responses, etc.

Step 3 – Necessary

Why writes and send physical letters these days? Well, you are going to do just that. Send the company a written letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. The postcard you get back will show the name of the company you sent it to, a signature of who signed for it, and when they got it. Don’t lose that proof of receipt. Put it in your drawer or box.

When you write a letter, there is no reason to be mean and nasty. Be sure you present your side of the issue with a level head reasonable tone. Explain that you are unhappy with their services, tell them why, and say you want out of their program and expect a refund paid by X date. Give them at least two weeks from the day you send your letter to respond.

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In the letter let them know that if you can not come to a mutually agreeable solution you plan to send a copy of your complaint to the following people:

1. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can file complaint here.

2. Your State Attorney General’s office. For a listing, click here.

3. Your local Better Business Bureau. You can file a complaint online here.

4. Any local consumer affairs office your local county government might have. You can find them by doing an online search.

5. The Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint online here.

6. Any trade association the company may belong to.

7. The news department of your local television station(s).

8. If the company is a law firm or run by a lawyer, you can file a complaint with the Bar Association in your state and their state. For a listing of state bar association links, click here.

“As officers of the court, all attorneys are obligated to maintain the highest ethical standards. In furtherance of this obligation, attorneys are guided by a code of conduct, the Code of Professional Responsibility, as adopted by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. Attorneys who violate the law or fail to abide by this code of conduct are subject to discipline, which may include admonishment, reprimand, censure, suspension or loss of his or her license to practice law.” – Source

9. If your money is being deposited in a third-party escrow account with a separate escrow provider, send a copy of your complaint to them.

10. If correspondence is received via the U.S. Postal Service, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by telephone at (888) 877-7644; by mail at U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of Inspector General, Operations Support Group, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100; or via the online complaint form.

11. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (to report scams that may have originated via the internet).

12. National Consumers League (NCL) – file a fraud complaint, visit the NCL fraud website.

13. And most importantly, be sure to file an online scam report with GetOutOfDebt.org.

Step 4 – Protect Your Money

Contact your bank and find out what you need to do to stop any additional debits by the company from your account if you feel as if you must stop any more payments. The bank may say you will have to change your checking account number. Yes, that’s a pain in the ass, but it will absolutely prevent future debits.

Before you leap to do that, make sure you’ve read the refund section of your client agreement to make sure that stopping payments lets the company off the hook.

If your money is being deposited into a third-party escrow account, contact the escrow company, tell them you want a full refund of the money in your account, and you want to close your account if it does not impact your ability to get a refund from the company you are trying to get out of.

Step 5 – Be Patient

Any communications you receive from this point forward, put in a special safe place. If you get emails, print them out. Put everything n that drawer or box you are using to save things on this issue.

If they call you, keep a written log of when they called, who you spoke with, and what the conversation was about.

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Step 6 – Do What You Said You Would Do if They Ignore You

If the company does not contact or respond to you by the date you specified in the letter, do what you said you would do and file the complaints.

Step 7 – The Company Response is a Partial Refund

If the company does respond and makes you a partial refund offer that is acceptable to you, accept the offer but make sure the offer does not come with a requirement for you to waive any of your rights.

Some companies want people to sign statements they will not speak out against the company or waive any further claim. If the company has harmed you, that seems like an unreasonable thing for you to waive. However, only you can decide what is best for you to do when presented with an offer. If you are unsure what rights you may waive, then find a local attorney licensed in your state for help.

Step 7 – The Company Response is Not Acceptable

If the offer is not acceptable or the company does not respond then file a complaint with the people I mentioned above. If you send your complaint by mail to those other resources, including copies of your original letter and the return receipt card showing the company received it. Send these complaints by mail using certified mail, return receipt requested as well. The goal here is to document everything.

If you file it online, print a copy of the screen before you hit submit and also print the receipt on the screen after filing it or the confirmation email you might receive.

Step 8 – Keep the Company Informed

Send the company copies of the complaints you send to others as you send them. Send them to the company by certified mail, return receipt requested if you want maximum attention.

Once you file complaints with the folks I listed above, you may notice the company is much more willing to refund your money and put this matter behind them. They want to avoid irritating state regulators, damaging their BBB reputation, and becoming the subject of an FTC, or CFPB investigation.

It seems sometimes, they hold off making a refund to see how serious you are about complaining.

Step 9 – A Real Time Suck But Can Be Worth It

If you still have not received a fair and reasonable refund then contact your local court and find out how to sue the company in small claims court for your refund. Typically the amounts claimed are eligible to be pursued by individuals this way. And if you go this route all those documents you’ve placed in your special place will come in very handy, Take them all with you when you go for your court date.

If you are not confident to file your small claims suit then find a local consumer advocate attorney here. Make sure the attorney you select is licensed to practice law in your state.

All I Can Say is Most People Find This Process Helpful

If you have paid thousands of dollars to a company you are claiming has not helped you, while the process above is a bit time consuming and involves some cost, it will be a worthwhile attempt to get a refund.

Most people that follow this process should expect to get a negotiated acceptable refund or an entire refund of the fees paid if you file your request before the company files for bankruptcy. In my experience, debt relief companies that do not communicate well and are not reasonable are headed to an unfortunate end. Some file for bankruptcy protection and some just vanish.

If you are still unhappy with the company, feel free to file a scam report here.

Originally published June 30, 2010.

162 thoughts on “How to Get Your Money Back From a Debt Relief Company if You Feel Like You’ve Been Scammed”

  1. Hi Steve,
    I like your list! ….
    Or they can simply hire a reputable company that charges their fees based on performance and give a TRIPLE GUARANTEE.
    What a concept, a company that will stand behind their product. I know it seems like a no brainer.
    But imagine the thousands of people that just enroll without getting any guarantee of results.
    Keep up the great info.
    Thanks
    Alex

    Reply
  2. I’m trying to get out of my debt settlement program. In your opinion what are the chances of getting fees back that the company calls non-refundable? Can they really keep almost 3k when they have done nothing for me? Or do you think if i stand my ground they will return some of that money if not all of it?

    Matt

    Reply
    • The damage to them is potentially more with regulators if they don’t return it. However, not every company is smart enough to figure it out that’s why in my process I laid it out for you to follow and let them know what your intentions were if they did not refund your money.

      Steve

      Reply
      • When they call and offer me little money i just decline, and let them know I will be filing a complaint with all the places listed in my letter, unless i receive the full refund? You think this will scare the money out of them?

        Matt

        Reply
        • What do you advise I say, when they call me back and if the amount they offer is low? They have called me once and sent an email to me, both just asking me to return the call to process my cancellation and refund request. I have called back and left a message and still have no gotten a return call.

          Matt

          Reply
          • I advise you take this discussion off the phone and document it all by mail as I laid out. The chances are really good the person on the phone will claim latter they did not have the authority to make such an offer. Get it all in writing and being able to show they received your request and did not respond is powerful when you escalate your case and make file a complaint with the state.

        • They are calling me now because they have received my request. Do I just not call back when they call? Or should I response to the email, and request everything in writing? I don’t mean to seem dumb just not really sure how to move forward at this point. I sent them the letter I gave them until the 26th to return my full refund, and they are now calling me.

          Matt

          Reply
          • Call them back. If they offer you a full refund over the phone get a date by which they will pay you back. If they don’t pay by that date then follow my plan. BUT, only you can decide if the refund they offer you is sufficient if it is less than a full refund. There is a cost in time and money to pursuing it further.

            Let me know what they say and by the way, who is the company?

            Steve

  3. Hello Steve, I really appreciate this article you have written. I have posted 1 or 2 items on your site, but look at it often to make sure I am doing things correctly. I terminated with Freedom in March and have been scammed out of $9,255.68 in a 10 month period. Besides all the wrong doing they have done and I have copies of everything, my credit being ruined, we are currently filing a chapter 13. I still have a hard time believing that we went with a debt settlement company, as my we pride ourselves on making pretty good decisions. We have created a mess, but are cleaning it up slowly! Some of the things I did not do that you recommended I am now going to move forward with. On a personal note we are starting to heal and forgive ourselves for making this very poor decision on signing with a debt settlement company. I hope if anyone reads your
    website please do not sign with a debt settlement company. If you think you have problems now wait until you follow there plan, you will be in worst shape than when you started. There are other alternatives and help out there I promise. Steve, keep giving out this very valuable information that you share with everyone. It is my personal belief that as the economy and people recover we are going to find so many more people that are in my place. I consider the wrong doings of the debt settlement industry an epidemic that is getting ready to come to light. Keep sharing your info and I will keep reading!

    Reply
  4. I just found this article, and I’m in the process of trying to get out of a debt settlement program. And as of yesterday I closed the saving account I had with the 3rd party bank. And now I am getting more calls for then debt settlement place then I ever have in the last 11 months. So here is my question should I talk to them or wait until they receive my letter?

    Reply
      • Ok, I have to admit I’m a little scared. I actually wrote down what I plan to say, not only for record reason but also because I know no one will pick up the phone when I call back. Either it will be after hours or they just don’t bother to answer. That’s what I usually run in to. I just feel like they are there to help themselves and not me. The truth is if they give me a full refund I can take care of 3 out of my 5 credit card debt on my own, within a few weeks. I just hope they give it all back and I don’t have to fight them to hard. (Although if I have to I will)! 🙂 Thanks!

        Reply
        • Jenny,

          There is no need to get sucked into a confrontation. There is also no need to call if you follow my step-by-step plan if you don’t want to. Calling just gives you the peace of mind that you spoke to someone and on the off chance they offered you a full and immediate refund, it would all be taken care of. I’m not betting on that thought.

          Steve

          Reply
  5. How does someone get out a Debt settlement company? I have been with a company for about two years and only have about a year left with them and have been sued 4 times and only one of them have they had enough to actually had enough in my account to fully pay off the the plaintif.

    How do you break out of one of these firms?

    Reply
    • I’m a consumer attorney. Frequently my clients will ask us to get them out from these predators. In general, once they receive a demand letter from our office (or the office of any consumer attorney), they will accede right away to a full return of all funds paid into them. Most attorneys should be able to negotiate with the debt companies for under $1,000.

      Eric Ridley, Esq.

      Reply
    • I’m a consumer attorney. Frequently my clients will ask us to get them out from these predators. In general, once they receive a demand letter from our office (or the office of any consumer attorney), they will accede right away to a full return of all funds paid into them. Most attorneys should be able to negotiate with the debt companies for under $1,000.

      Eric Ridley, Esq.

      Reply

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