Attorney General Ellison sues companies and individuals running fraudulent student loan debt “forgiveness” scheme, obtains court order immediately halting conduct
Companies illegally charged up-front fees upwards of $1,300 for filling out and submitting forms to the federal government for loan repayment and consolidation programs, which eligible borrowers can apply for on their own for free
In response to lawsuit, federal judge issues temporary restraining order against defendants
October 30, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has joined with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other jurisdictions in filing suit against three southern California companies and their owners and officers for running a fraudulent scheme that falsely promises borrowers student-loan forgiveness.
The companies illegally charge consumers upwards of $1,300 to enroll them in repayment plans or consolidation loans that all eligible federal student-loan borrowers can apply for on their own for free through the United States Department of Education. The companies operate as a common enterprise to deceive consumers into believing that these fees will go toward paying down the consumers’ student loan debt, when the companies actually pocket the fees.
The companies have deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and collected more than $71 million in illegal fees from consumers, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than 1,000 Minnesota customers.
“Minnesotans just want to be able to afford their lives. The cost of student loans that too many people have to take out to do that is already too high. It boils my blood when fraudsters then come along and prey on them,” Attorney General Ellison said. “My office initiated an investigation into these scammers a year ago that led to the lawsuit we just filed with the federal government. We’re holding them to account.”
Attorney General Ellison’s Office began an investigation into Consumer Advocacy Center (CAC) in 2018. In early 2019, CAC filed for bankruptcy, listing the State of Minnesota as a creditor, along with other government entities. Soon thereafter, Minnesota joined the CFPB and the State of North Carolina to jointly investigate CAC and the related entities.
Attorney General Ellison’s Office, along with the CFPB, the State of North Carolina, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office on behalf of the People of the State of California, filed a civil lawsuit on Monday, October 21 against Consumer Advocacy Center Inc., d/b/a Premier Student Loan Center; True Count Staffing Inc., d/b/a SL Account Management; Prime Consulting LLC, d/b/a Financial Preparation Services; and Albert Kim, Kaine Wen, and Tuong Nguyen. The lawsuit was unsealed yesterday. Among other things, the State alleges that the defendants:
- Charge illegal advance fees for student loan debt relief services;
- Misrepresent to borrowers that the defendants can forgive borrowers’ student loans;
- Misrepresent to borrowers that the fees they charge are being applied to borrowers’ loans; and
- Falsify borrowers’ family size, marital status, and income to borrowers’ student loan servicers in order to qualify borrowers for artificially low monthly payments.
These allegations represent violations of Minnesota’s Consumer Fraud Act and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule. Attorney General Ellison’s Office is seeking permanent injunctive relief, restitution for harmed consumers, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit was filed under seal in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. At the same time the lawsuit was filed, the CFPB filed a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against the defendants, requesting that the court temporarily halt the companies’ operations and install a receiver to oversee the business and freeze the defendants’ assets. Minnesota and the other states joined the CFPB in this request. The Court granted the request and issued a Temporary Restraining Order the same day. A copy of the lawsuit is available on Attorney General Ellison’s website.
Attorney General Ellison encourages anyone who has been victimized by Consumer Advocacy Center Inc., d/b/a Premier Student Loan Center, True Count Staffing Inc., d/b/a SL Account Management, or Prime Consulting LLC, d/b/a Financial Preparation Services to file complaints with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota), or submitting an online complaint form on the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Complaint.asp.
The Attorney General’s Office’s encourages borrowers to visit its website for additional information on how to avoid student loan scams, including a publication entitled Beware of Student Loan Assistance Companies that Charge High Fees for What You Can Do for Free. Student loan borrowers may access the United States Department of Education’s website — www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans — for additional information about federal student-loan repayment programs available to all eligible borrowers for free.