A reader wanted to know about the representations made on the Fast Track Debt Relief website. Specifically they wanted to know if the claims made by Fast Track Debt Relief flew against the guidance given by the Federal Trade Commission when it came to making performance claims.
And the reader does have a point. While Fast Track Debt Relief does try to disclaim nearly everything in the language on the bottom of the page, the claims made is certainly more prominent and sends a stronger message, in my opinion, than any of the disclaimers.
Here is an example of what the site looks like in an average web browser.
Lets look at the disclaimers. They don’t even appear on the screen at all unless a consumer scrolls way down to the bottom of the page. The contact form is much higher up on the page and it is doubtful that many consumers even see the disclaimers.
The disclaimer says: [Emphasis added]
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS MAY VARY BASED ON ABILITY TO SAVE FUNDS AND COMPLETION OF ALL PROGRAM TERMS. PROGRAM DOES NOT ASSUME OR PAY ANY DEBTS, NOR PROVIDE TAX OR LEGAL ADVICE. CONSULT WITH YOUR PROFESSIONAL ADVISORS AS NECESSARY. PROGRAM NOT AVAILABLE IN ALL STATES, PLEASE REQUEST, READ AND UNDERSTAND ALL PROGRAM TERMS PRIOR TO ENROLLMENT. THIS PROGRAM DOES NOT GUARANTEE RESULTS, AND THE CHART AND STATEMENTS IN THIS WEBSITE FOR ARE ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES ONLY. CHART IS REPRESENTATIVE ONLY OF A SINGLE CONSUMER SITUATION AND DEBTLOAD WHERE THE CONSUMER COMPLETED OUR PROGRAM AND PAID ALL FEES. IT IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF OTHER SITUATIONS, INCLUDING THOSE WHERE CONSUMERS DO NOT COMPLETE THE PROGRAM OR WHERE CREDITORS WILL NOT NEGOTIATE ON DEBTS.
THE BARS ON THE CHART ARE NOT INTENDED TO BE COMPARATIVE, AS EACH PROGRAM OFFERS DIFFERENT COSTS AND BENEFITS DEPENDING ON INDIVIDUAL DEBT SITUATION. FOR EXAMPLE, CREDIT COUNSELING PROGRAMS CANNOT BE COMPARED TO SETTLEMENT PROGRAMS AS THE LEVEL OF CREDITOR HARASSMENT MAY BE DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT, AND PROGRAM COSTS WILL VARY. “TOP SETTLEMENTS” CHART IS SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE THAT COMPANY DOES OBTAIN RESULTS FOR ITS CUSTOMERS, BUT IS NOT INTENDED AS AN PROMISE OR GUARANTEE.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: RESULTS ARE INDIVIDUAL SETTLEMENTS FOR CONSUMERS WHO ENROLLED AND COMPLETED PROGRAM. RESULTS ARE NOT SHOWN FOR CONSUMERS WHO DID NOT COMPLETE PROGRAM IN FULL. MANY CONSUMERS RECEIVE DIFFERING SETTLEMENTS AND SOME RECEIVE NONE BECAUSE THEY TERMINATE OR DROP-OUT OF PROGRAM. THE INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE IS FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES ONLY BASED ON ENROLLED DEBT AMOUNTS RANGING FROM $10,000 – $100,000, FOR ENROLLMENTS BETWEEN 1-3 YEARS AGO, AND FOR TOP 5 LARGEST CREDITORS. PLEASE DO NOT RELY ON INFORMATION AS AN PROMISE OR GUARANTEE OF RESULTS. INFORMATION PRESENTED IS SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE THAT COMPANY DOES INDEED GET RESULTS IF CONSUMER MEETS ALL QUALIFICATION FACTORS. SEE CONTRACT FOR COMPLETE TERMS. – Source
So from the disclaimers we learn that the claims made are either for one client that completed the program or for multiple clients that did not drop out. It’s certainly not clear what the more prominent claims actually cover. But one thing I think we can agree on is the claims neither include people that enrolled but did not finish and are not inclusive of all debts.
Here is what the Average Consumer Sees
Settle your Debt with 1 Easy Monthly Program Payment and Significantly Reduce Your Debt!
- Settle Your Debt
- Reduce a Large Portion of your Debt Load
- Complete our Accredited Debt Settlement Program in 24 – 48 months.
- Your Credit is NOT a Factor!
- Alternative to Filing Bankruptcy.
But if the claims made are only based on one client and not inclusive of people that don’t complete the program then how can the company even pretend the statements they make are the least bit representative for consumers?
Fast Track Debt Relief then provides the following chart.
But then let’s look back at that part of the disclaimer that refers to this specific chart.
THE BARS ON THE CHART ARE NOT INTENDED TO BE COMPARATIVE, AS EACH PROGRAM OFFERS DIFFERENT COSTS AND BENEFITS DEPENDING ON INDIVIDUAL DEBT SITUATION. FOR EXAMPLE, CREDIT COUNSELING PROGRAMS CANNOT BE COMPARED TO SETTLEMENT PROGRAMS AS THE LEVEL OF CREDITOR HARASSMENT MAY BE DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT, AND PROGRAM COSTS WILL VARY. “TOP SETTLEMENTS” CHART IS SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE THAT COMPANY DOES OBTAIN RESULTS FOR ITS CUSTOMERS
So apparently even the chart is not really representative of…anything. If credit counseling programs can’t be compared to settlement programs then why does the chart compare them?
Fast Track Debt Relief says: “CHART IS REPRESENTATIVE ONLY OF A SINGLE CONSUMER SITUATION AND DEBTLOAD WHERE THE CONSUMER COMPLETED OUR PROGRAM AND PAID ALL FEES. IT IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF OTHER SITUATIONS, INCLUDING THOSE WHERE CONSUMERS DO NOT COMPLETE THE PROGRAM OR WHERE CREDITORS WILL NOT NEGOTIATE ON DEBTS.”
Federal Trade Commission says: “If you advertise or represent that your customers will save a certain amount of money or reduce their debt by a certain percentage – for example, “We can settle your debts for 40% to 60%” – your statements must be truthful, and you must have objective proof to back them up. Your claims must accurately reflect the results you’ve achieved for previous customers. It’s important to consider the message your claims convey. Under the law, the FTC looks at claims from the point of view of reasonable consumers. Therefore, what matters isn’t the literal accuracy of the words you use, but rather your proof to support the “net impression” your message conveys. For example, claiming that your past customers have achieved “up to 60% savings” is likely to convey to new customers that they, too, will get savings of around 60%. If you don’t have solid proof to back that up, the claim is deceptive.”
“In calculating the results you’ve achieved over time, you must include customers who dropped out or otherwise failed to complete the program. Don’t base your savings claims only on customers who successfully completed your program.”
Fast Track Debt Relief says: “RESULTS ARE INDIVIDUAL SETTLEMENTS FOR CONSUMERS WHO ENROLLED AND COMPLETED PROGRAM. RESULTS ARE NOT SHOWN FOR CONSUMERS WHO DID NOT COMPLETE PROGRAM IN FULL”
Federal Trade Commission says: “Include all debts enrolled by your customers, not only those that have been settled successfully. In calculating your savings claim, you may not exclude accounts you failed to settle, even if the failure was due to customers dropping out of your service.”
Example 11: Company L has 10 customers, and each of them enrolls two $1,000 debts in the program – totaling 20 debts or $20,000. Company L is able to settle 10 of the 20 debts, each for $500. However, it was unable to settle the remaining 10 debts before those customers either completed or dropped out of the program. Thus, Company L has saved its 10 customers $5,000 or 25% of their debts in the program. It would be deceptive for Company L to exclude the 10 accounts that weren’t settled and claim a savings rate of 50%.
Fast Track Debt Relief says: “Your Credit is NOT a Factor!” And, “Complete our Accredited Debt Settlement Program in 24 – 48 months.”
Federal Trade Commission says: If you provide debt relief services, it’s illegal to misrepresent any material aspect of your services, either explicitly or by implication. A material aspect of a debt relief service includes any information that is likely to affect someone’s decision to sign up for your program or to choose one program over another. Some examples of claims that would be material:
- the amount of money or the percentage of the debt someone may save by using your service;
- the amount of time necessary to get the results you represent;
- the amount of money or the percentage of each outstanding debt the customer must accumulate before you’ll begin your attempts to negotiate, settle or modify the terms with creditors;
- the amount of money or the percentage of each outstanding debt the customer must accumulate before you’ll make a bona fide offer to negotiate, settle or modify the terms with creditors;
- the effect of your service on the customer’s creditworthiness;
- the effect of your service on the collection efforts of any creditors or debt collectors;
- the percentage or number of customers who have gotten the results you represent; and
- whether your business is a bona fide nonprofit entity. – Source
So just when you thought these old claims and sites were addressed by the FTC, apparently either this website by Fast Track Debt Relief is lingering or they are still pushing the only messages.
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