A federal judge has temporarily shut down a South Jersey company tied to an alleged credit repair scheme that bilked consumers out of at least $6.2 million, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.
Startup Masters NJ, based in Lawnside, Camden County, was ordered to cease operations and freeze its assets while a lawsuit brought by the FTC against the firm and 11 other defendants proceeds. The credit repair company is connected to larger enterprise that illegally charged upfront fees and falsely claimed to fix consumers’ credit, according to the complaint filed Monday in Connecticut federal court.
Douglas C. Filter, identified as an owner and manager of the businesses, declined comment. Another listed owner, Marcio G. Andrade, could not be reached for comment. Both are named as defendants.
Since at least 2014, Startup Masters NJ and nine related firms claimed they could improve consumers’ credit scores by removing all negative items from credit reports, even when the information is accurate and not obsolete, according to the complaint. But the firms typically failed to raise customer credit scores, even as they took illegal advance fees from customers.
The companies also advised consumers to mislead credit bureaus by filing false identity theft affidavits and to mislead lenders by claiming to be authorized users on other individuals’ credit accounts, according to the FTC.
When victims complained about the lack of results and sought refunds, the companies threatened customers with legal action, the complaint says.
“A good credit score can help you buy a home, get a business loan, or finance an education,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “These companies preyed on consumers who wanted to clean up their credit by making false promises and taking illegal upfront fees.”
The companies used trade names such as Deletion Experts and Inquiry Busters, and deployed deceptive websites, unsolicited emails, and text messages to target consumers with false promises of fixing credit problems, the FTC said.
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday that forced the companies to cease operations, suspend their web domains, and freeze their assets. The judge found there is “good cause to believe” the firms are violating federal laws.
The corporate defendants are: