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.  Just for S & G’s, I decided to go the Upper Law Society of Canada website and do a little search on this Sheila Cockburn.  I did call and she is, in fact, associated with the Ontario Bar.  However, the person I spoke with did not specify in what areas.  I will continue to do my research as I find the time throughout the day.

    If anyone has any other suggestions on how to deal with these matters, I’d love to hear them!

    Reply
  2. Hi Steve,
    How would you handle this situation in Canada?  I’ve just stopped payments with Silverthorne after 4 months of being with them.  They have, of course, done NOTHING that would require service fees up to this point except send me some emails and call me once a month asking for more money.  I wouldn’t think that that is over $1000.00 worth of services and would like to request all, or even a portion, of my money back.  I feel scammed – and shame on me for not investigating my options first but…. 
    I see that you have provided a list of U.S. agencies to contact regarding this but other than the BBB here in Canada (Ontario), I wouldn’t know who else to contact regarding Silverthorne’s practices.  Even the advisor I spoke with from reputable firm was shocked and baffled when I had her read their contract.  She said, “NO professional business would have such little regard for the clients they are suppose to be assisting.”  and advised me to stop payments immediately – so I did – and contacted Silverthorne and told them I had stopped payments and am withdrawing from the program.  I still have to write the cancellation letter but am uncertain of what to say exactly. 

    Any further assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
      • I have written my letter of cancellation KINDLY asking for a full refund of over $1000.00.  I’m not holding my breath but at the very least give me back my $151 that wasn’t part of the service fee.  I was very kind in my letter because I feel that you can sometime catch more flies with honey.  I guess we’ll just see what kind of parasites these people really are.
        I very kindly told them that I felt scammed and that they’ve basically taken over $1000.00 away from the care and provisions of my two children.  I said that it couldn’t possibly cost over $1000 to send a few emails and make a few phone calls asking me for more money.  I said that I am looking forward to a reponse by, basically, the end of September (was I being too lenient?).

        Do you think that might work?  I was very professional and courteous.  I guess we’ll see what happens.  I’m going to send the letter registered tomorrow (if I can make it to the post office before they close). Maybe I’ll ask if I can send it Purolator or FedEx through work and pay them when the invoice comes in.

        This is crazy.  I feel so stupid and so duped.

        Reply
    •  Is Silverthorne based in the U.S. or in Canada?  I tried to find them, but a quick search on the net came up empty.  One thing that you can do is check with the Consumer Protection Department of your Provincial Government.  Here in SK our Consumer Protection Department is part of the Saskatchewan Financial Services Commission.  They will be able to tell you if Silverthorne is allowed to do business in your province.  If they are not, that gives you a lot of weight in dealing with them.  How can you pay someone for a service that they are not allowed to perform in your province? 

      We had been involved with Vortex Debt Group (a U.S. based company with an office in Ontario), but found out that they were PROHIBITED from doing business in Saskatchewan as a collection agency or a debt negotiation business.  Once we were armed with this information, we used this in addition to Steve’s suggestions to write a letter (which we both emailed and sent by express post) and threatened to report them to:
      1.  Their State Attorney General’s office.
      2.  Our local Better Business Bureau.
      3.  Their local Better Business Bureau.
      4.  The Consumer Affairs Office our our Province.
      5.  The Consumer Affairs Office of Canada.
      6.  The Federal Trad Commission.
      7.  Any trade association that Vortex Debt Group belongs to.
      8.  All local TV and Radio Stations that do Consumer Investigations.
      9.  Bank of Montreal; the escrow account provider/holder.
      10.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
      11.  File an ‘online scam report’ with GetOutofDebt.org.

      This brought about a quick resolution for us.  I sent the email on February 7, 2012 and by February 9, 2012 they had put a cheque in the mail refunding us the total of our funds on deposit with them.  All the while though, they continued to insist that they are able to carry on business in our province.  However, I had a letter sent to me from the Saskatchewan Financial Services Commission, Consumer Protection Department stating clearly that they were prohibited from doing business in Saskatchewan.  In the end that is what sealed the deal.  How could they continue to argue with what our Provincial Government says in black and white?

      I hope this may assist you in your dealings with these Scam Artists. 

      Reply
      •  This is VERY helpful information.  Last week, I received the following email:

        “The
        Law Office of Cockburn & Associate, LLP is pleased to announce the
        acquisition of Silverthorn & Lupolover Lawyers, LLP. This comes as
        Mark Silverthorn explores alternate avenues within the practice of law.Shelia
        A. Cockburn, a protégé of Mark Silverthorn, has over 8 years of legal
        experience in the areas of debt collections, business transactions and
        intellectual property. Ms. Cockburn transitioned to law from an
        engineering background with over 7 years of management and mechanical
        engineering experience in quality compliance, training and customer
        assurance. She holds a B.Eng in Mechanical Engineering from Concordia
        University, a J.D. from Fordham Law School and an L.L.M from FordhamLaw
        School. Ms. Cockburn is a Certified Debt Specialist registered with the
        IAPDA and is registered with the U.S. Patent Office. Originally from
        Montreal, Ms. Cockburn is licensed to practice law in the US. and
        Canada.
        The Law Office of Cockburn & Associate, LLP is located at 7111
        Syntex Drive, 3rd Floor, Mississauga, ON L5N 8C3 and the phone number is
        416-477-2420. The website is http://www.clegal.ca All
        clients previously enrolled with Silverthorn & Lupolover Laywers,
        LLP will be serviced by The Law Office of Cockburn & Associate and
        the terms and conditions of their agreements upheld. An updated Welcome
        Package will be sent to all clients including a revised Authorization
        Form that requires attestation and important information regarding the
        debt settlement process.
        Payments processed from September 4, 2012 through September 30, 2012
        will list either “Silverthorn & Lupolover” or “Cockburn &
        Associate” on the PAD. Please be advised that if your PAD is returned a
        client service specialist will contact you to reschedule.
        In order to provide a seamless transition, the client services
        department will continue to service you as members of The Law Office of
        Cockburn & Associate, LLP. The department personnel, phone numbers
        and extensions, email addresses and fax numbers remain unchanged.
        We appreciate your cooperation as we work through this transition.”I expect to never see a cent of that money again.  HOWEVER, I will investigate further as you suggested with CPD and see what becomes of it.Thank you (and thank you Steve).

        Reply
  3. I’ve been scammed and want to follow the step-by-step guide to getting my money back.
    The problem is I don’t have a physical address and links to the website no longer work.
    What should I do?

    Reply
  4. Hello to all, Iam with the World Law group & Iam going to go the steps that Steve remmocends, but my Problem is I cant find no address to send the letter to, any help on this matter would be greatly be Appreciated.

    By the way, I been had for over $1800.00  & no results or hardly no contract with them…

    Reply
  5. Steve,
    Will this also work for getting a refund from a law firm I hired to get a loan modification? They got me a Trial period but not the permanent modification because they moved their office and the final paperwork was sent to their old office so I could not sign it. I have now been denied the modification and the law firm says they can no longer help me. The contract I signed with them states they shall represent me until a loan workout is approved. Is a trial period considered a loan workout?

    Reply

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