Besides the large amount of groupies calling me on a daily basis, my cell phone remains silent. But the past month, I kept receiving calls from an 800 number. The caller never left a message, and I couldn’t call the number back. So I investigated, and credit cards were involved.
The number is (866) 801-1163. I Googled it and found on several forums that people were getting the same annoying calls dating back to 2007. So after I ignored about 20 calls, I finally picked up.
Following the obligatory three-second wait that happens on all telemarketing calls, a little brat named Steve with Help America asked me how I was doing. I immediately began a question assault that ranged from what his business with me was to demanding that he buy stock in my gas station pizza franchise.
But Steve was only calling because he heard that I needed help with my credit card debt. Steve “heard that I expressed interest” in reducing my debt. What a nice little brat Steve is.
I proceeded to tell him that I had very little credit card debt, so it was surprising to receive a call like this. He then asked me if I knew that “the current administration has no plan to help people with credit card debt.” I said I didn’t because the current administration just got done passing the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which contains a lot of regulation aimed at helping cardholders.
Steve was agitated, but after all, he was here to help. He countered by asking me how much credit card debt I currently have. I told the truth: It is under $400. He didn’t like that; his company could only help me if I had over $10,000 in debt. So Steve said bye, but before he could hang up, I had to know what company was causing all this.
“Leads99.com,” Steve said.
Leads99.com is a live transfer company. The business got my number, and the numbers of thousands more, by purchasing it through a data wholesaler. The data is then imported into telemarketing software, and the calls begin. Once an employee of Leads99.com talks to someone that meets its criterion — that is, he or she has more than $10,000 in debt and is willing to speak with a “debt specialist” — the employee transfers the sucker to another company that paid Leads99.com to send qualified, prescreened customers to them.
Since I wasn’t qualified, the conversation ended, and I expected the calls to do the same. However, I got multiple calls the next few days, one of which resulted in a shouting match between me and “Tom” about how they got my number. And even though I told them repeatedly to stop calling, Steve and Tom and Mary and John kept ringing me. I subsequently filed a complaint with the FCC.
It seemed the only way to end this was to have more than $10,000 in credit card debt. So I magically “accumulated” some before the next call.
The phone rang around 3 in the afternoon. After a pause, I talked with Christine. She gave me the same speech as Steve, but this time I told her I had about $11,000 in debt. I could hear her voice lift once she heard that devastating amount of debt.
I was then redirected to Christine’s supervisor, Kyle. He told me he was going to connect me to Edmond, a “top consultant” for Universal Debt Management. Edmond was going to talk to me for about 10 minutes and essentially solve all my life’s problems.
Before Kyle let me go, I asked him why he was doing this. I mean, he was such a nice guy to continually have his people call me and call me day and night to help me with a problem I didn’t even have.
He said his company, Help America, also known as Leads99.com, which exists to send qualified customers to Universal Debt Management and other debt settlement companies, has many core values. He then coughed up a bunch of whiny company lines I forgot.
So I was transferred to Edmond, and somewhere in hell a supervisor at Leads99.com smiled.
I’m a pretty sensitive guy, but Edmond sounded like an intellectually challenged, heavily drugged Gary Busey. He had a lot of troubling forming questions and ended most of them with a machine gun spray of “ahs” and “huhs” that I thought his phone was sure to break from all of the spit forming on it. But I had to give him a shot; I had a mission to accomplish.
Edmond first asked me my name, which I found surprising because I thought they were the ones who contacted me first, so they for sure should have my information. He said he just needed my name for security reasons. So I told him my official name — Tyler McJohnson — and then told him I had $11,000 in credit card debt spread over two cards. I paid about $500 to $600 a month on the cards, too.
Then we got to the meat of the conversation. Edmond wanted to sign me up for a debt settlement program through his company. Debt settlement is when you pay a third party to negotiate with your creditor so that you may pay a percentage of what you owe instead of the full amount. Usually, you pay monthly payments plus fees to a third party, and the company holds the payments for at least three to six months while they negotiate a payment. It’s a process that has the side benefit of ruining your credit.
Edmond continued to give me a few details about the program. I would have to pay Universal Debt Management an 8 percent administration fee, which was based on the $11,000 I said I owed — in other words, he wanted $880 upfront. Plus I would have to set up a “special purpose” savings account with a company called Global Client Solutions. I would deposit money in the savings account and Universal Debt Management would draw funds out of it when needed. The company also would need my bank account numbers to figure out how much I owe.
Let’s step back a little bit. There is plenty wrong with this picture:
- The fact that they cold called me and said I contacted them
- How many parties have been involved already.
- The ridiculously spammy names and websites of the companies — Help America, Universal Debt Management and Global Client Solutions.
- And finally, and most importantly, the post after post after post of complaints against Global Client Solutions accusing it of fraud and cheating people out of more than the imaginary amount I owe.
In fairness, though, Edmond wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops when I pressed him. He said this process wasn’t going to be easy, and he told me I would get harassing calls from my creditors once I stopped paying my bills. But that is the only way, he explained, because “the people you owe money to have no reason to negotiate with us if you are paying your bills on time.” Edmond also admitted, after I asked him, that not paying your bills on time has a negative effect on your credit report.
I had to cut the conversation there, though, as I thought it was going too far. Edmond promised to call me back, and he has; I just for some reason keep missing his call. However, the calls from Help America, the fellows at 866-801-1163, have stopped.
So in the end, the only thing the companies involved here are doing wrong is violating a telemarketing sales rule by calling me even though I have my number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Debt settlement companies have gotten in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for this before, too. However, if someone were to go through with Edmond and sign up for help with Universal Debt Management, they might find more violations.
If you do need a debt settlement company, make sure the company you choose:
- is accredited by the Association of Settlement Companies (TASC), (Universal Debt Management isn’t on the list; Leads99.com and Global Client Solutions are)
- charges reasonable fees,
- has employees who are certified debt arbitrators,
- has a service guarantee,
- completely discloses what’s included in your debt settlement program, including fees,
- is a member of the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce (I couldn’t find Universal Debt Management or Leads99.com; Global Client Solutions is listed with the BBB, but only its address is provided),
- is licensed in your state if required.
Or if you simply want to get Help America to stop calling you, the best thing to do is file a complaint with the FCC.
See related: Video: The basics of debt settlement, Phone line makes me popular with debt collectors, I’m not a deadbeat, but I play one on my cellphone, A comprehensive guide to the Credit CARD Act of 2009