In order to settle allegations that their telemarketing affiliates used phony real estate, mortgage, and rent-to-own advertisements to drum up business from consumers who were “hot swapped” to them and charged up to billions in illegal upfront fees, a group of related companies that operated prominent credit repair brands like Lexington Law and CreditRepair.com agreed to pay $2.7 billion.
The Salt Lake City firms, which federal regulators estimate brought in $388 million in revenue in 2016, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June after being ruled in violation of rules prohibiting telemarketers who provide credit repair services from collecting fees in advance and leaving consumers with no recourse but to pay up.
More than 4 million consumers were allegedly tricked into the scheme over the course of more than a decade, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it may explore tapping the bureau’s victims’ relief fund to pay redress to those people if the settlement is granted.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) charged Progrexion and its affiliates with breaking the law “by making deceptive representations in its marketing, or by substantially assisting others in doing so,” to get people to buy credit repair services. This included breaking the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
According to the CFPB’s revised complaint, Progrexion generated leads for Lexington Law and CreditRepair.com through the use of affiliate marketing schemes, namely “hot swap partners.”
“Americans across the country looking to improve their credit scores have turned to companies like CreditRepair.com and Lexington Law. These credit repair giants used fake real estate and rent-to-own opportunities to illegally bait people and pad their pockets with billions in fees,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “This scam is another sign that we must do more to fix the credit reporting and scoring system in our country.”
“This fraud,” Chopra added, “serves as further proof that the current state of the United States credit reporting and scoring infrastructure needs to be overhauled.”
The CFPB claims that these hot swap partners engaged in inbound and outbound telemarketing activities in which they purported to sell products like rent-to-own agreements, mortgages, auto loans, and personal loans.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed an updated complaint on August 17, 2022, and in agreeing to the settlement, PGX Holdings Inc., doing business as Progrexion, neither accepted nor denied the CFPB’s accusations. PGX Holdings Inc.’s consumer brands include those of its partner, Lexington Law, and subsidiaries CreditRepair.com and Credit.com.
A civil money penalty of $45.8 million is levied against Progrexion, while a civil money penalty of $18.4 million is levied against Lexington Law as part of the settlement.
Following a court ruling in March that said credit repair companies that drum up business via telemarketing must wait six months after delivering services before billing clients, Progrexion announced in June that it was discontinuing “all non-service-related communications with consumers” and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
To continue “serving as the equalizer for consumers that rightly believe that the system is stacked against them as they desperately look for ways to participate in the credit markets on fair and equal terms,” the company said in a statement that it “fully intends to emerge as a stronger and even more determined organization.”
According to the CFPB’s complaint, since at least 2012, Progrexion or its predecessors have been advertising credit repair services to consumers under the identities “Lexington Law Firm” and “Lexington Law” and through the website CreditRepair.com.
“Affected Consumers” are defined under the settlement as consumers who paid the defendants in a telemarketing transaction after March 8, 2016, or who were live-transferred by a hot swap partner and paid Lexington Law or CreditRepair.com after July 21, 2011.
Since the U.S. District Court for Utah concurred with the CFPB’s interpretation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule in June, a Salt Lake City legal company operating under the “doing business as” name Lexington Legal has issued a similar notice. Since 1995, the Federal Trade Commission has been working to implement the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, for which this rule is one of many it has created.
According to a statement made by Lexington Law at the time, “This announcement follows a years-long legal struggle with the (CFPB) over the interpretation of (an FTC rule covering the timeliness of charging for credit repair services engaged by inbound phone calls). A six-month billing delay will be enforced on clients who contact the firm after an inbound phone call, even though the court ‘strongly defended Lexington’s billing practices’.”
The corporations claimed they responded to the court’s order by closing their call centers and laying off around 900 people.
Hot-Swap Scheme Worked Like Magic
Some hot swap partners would qualify customers as leads for Lexington Law or CreditRepair.com while they thought they were being pre-approved for a loan or other service. The CFPB claims that hot swap partners would send customers to a Progrexion call center after confirming that the customer had credit issues and had access to a credit or debit card that could be used to pay for credit repair services.
“Hot-swap partners have used advertisements that included fake real estate ads, fake rent-to-own housing opportunities, fake relationships with lenders, false credit guarantees, and false and unsubstantiated statements about past consumer outcomes,” the CFPB said. “The ads have also included false and unsubstantiated statements about consumers’ likelihood of success in obtaining products and services,” the FTC said.
The CFPB claims that The H.O.P.E. Program, one of Progrexion’s “most productive hot swap partners, advertised extensively on Craigslist and Facebook, and through a network of paid affiliates, claiming to be able to help consumers with poor credit scores obtain favorable mortgages and rent-to-own housing contracts.”
HOPE “guaranteed anyone a zero to three point five percent down home loan regardless of bad credit when we start!” reads one advertisement, CFPB reported. The affiliate actually did not make any loans. Customers were told that they had to register with Lexington Law in order to take part in the (imaginary) lending scheme. Over 100,000 customers of HOPE who had signed up for Lexington Law’s credit restoration services were referred to Progrexion, the CFPB found.
CFPB filed suit against Progrexion for misleading business practices, naming five of its marketing affiliates despite allegations that the company collaborated with many others.
- HOPE, which did business as The HOPE Program, Help Renters, Homes with HOPE, and Hope to Own
- OLP.com Inc., which did business as One Loan Place and Rocket Daddy
- Ascent Mortgage Resource Group, which did business as Lead Virtue, First Access Rent-to-Own, First Access Mortgage, United Rent-to-Own, Ascent Rent-to-Own, FileForGrants.net, American Rent-to-Own, Rent to Own Homes and Hope Resources
- EasyHomeOwnership.net, which did business as Easy Home Ownership and RentToOwnAssistance.com
- YHTBA Corp., which did business as Rent-2-own.house, Rent Then Own Homes, and RentToOwn.house
If the settlement goes through, the businesses will have to notify their customers that the CFPB has filed suit, that they have reached a settlement, and that they have the ability to discontinue the credit repair services at any time.
As part of the settlement, the companies have agreed not to telemarket credit repair services or sell credit repair services that were sold by others via telemarketing for a period of 10 years.
Consumers seeking information on how to dispute inaccurate information on their credit report or ways to improve their credit score can learn more through the CFPB’s online guides and tools. Consumers can also submit complaints about financial products or services by visiting the CFPB website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). Employees of companies who scores believe their company has violated federal consumer financial laws are encouraged to send information about what they know to [email protected].
Legal Affairs Reporter Clarence C.J. Walker Jr. can be reached at: [email protected]