Enforcement Deferred for Tax Debt Relief Services, but Most Companies Are Now Prohibited From Collecting Advance Fees
The Federal Trade Commission has issued an enforcement policy statement on a new FTC rule that protects consumers by barring debt relief firms from collecting up-front fees. In its statement, the FTC says that while most companies that sell debt relief services over the telephone are now prohibited from charging fees before settling or reducing a consumer’s credit card or other unsecured debt, it will defer enforcement of the new rule for tax debt relief services.
The ban on advance fees reflects changes that the FTC made to its Telemarketing Sales Rule last July. These change take effect today. During the FTC’s education and outreach efforts earlier this month, some tax debt relief companies expressed uncertainty about whether the Rule applied to them. Specifically, they questioned whether tax debts are “unsecured,” which would make them subject to the Rule. The FTC currently is considering these concerns, and until further notice, will defer enforcing the Rule with respect to “services that represent, directly or by implication, to renegotiate settle, or alter the terms of obligation between a person and a taxing entity (tax debt relief services).”
The enforcement policy states, however, that tax debt relief services must comply with the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, except for the debt relief amendments, during the enforcement deferral period. It also reminds providers that they must comply with the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive practices.
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