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How to Keep from Getting Ripped Off by Debt Settlement & Debt Relief Scams in Canada

Q: I keep getting telephone messages from a company that says I can get a 3 month break from paying my credit cards. They also say that I can settle my debts with my creditors and get out of debt sooner. It sounds great, but why would my creditors go along with this?

Debt settlement and debt relief scams always look really good. Go with your gut instinct with debt
settlement companies. If something
seems too good to be true, it usually is.


A: When something sounds too good to be true, it often is. We have been getting increasing numbers of complaints from consumers who entered into an agreement with different debt settlement companies only to find out that most of the money they paid to these companies went to pay fees. Worse yet, the people were now months behind on their payments and in many cases their creditors are taking action against them.

3 Ways to Spot a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Scam

There are three things to be wary of if you are considering using the services of a debt settlement company:
  1. They require you to pay most of their fees up front before any of your money is used to settle your debts.
  2. They make unrealistic promises without any understanding of your financial situation. The truth is they have little if any influence with creditors.
  3. They tell you to stop talking with your creditors.

Pay Attention to the Details of Your Debt Settlement or Membership Agreement

Make sure you read and review the agreements from these companies carefully and pay close attention to the breakdown of the payment schedule. Are the majority of your payments applied to their fees first, before accumulating funds to settle your debts? Reputable credit counselling companies don’t require you to pay their fees up front before delivering any tangible service.

As the saying goes, “there is no free lunch;” everything comes at a price. If you stop making payments on your credit cards, it will negatively impact your credit rating…for years. It could also cause your creditors to initiate collection or legal action against you. That’s a heavy price to pay for a 3 month break from making your payments.

How to Choose a Good Debt Relief Company

If you want your creditors to work with you when you are experiencing financial problems, you need to keep the lines of communication open. Refusing to speak with your creditors will not help you to gain their understanding or cooperation.

My advice here is the same I would give you when choosing any service; do your homework and check this company out thoroughly before signing anything. Also listen to your inner voice, it’s usually right and knows when to walk away. I suspect that after doing your homework your inner voice will be telling you to run not walk away.

Scott Hannah is the President and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, one of Canada's leading non-profit credit counselling and credit education organizations. Scott writes a weekly column for Postmedia News which appears in print and/or digital editions of newspapers in Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg.

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