The Federal Trade Commission squeezed another $2.1 million out of the ringleader behind a record-breaking credit counseling and debt management scam that defrauded more than 250,000 consumers out of millions of dollars.
The $2.1 million was used to compensate victims of an operation run by Andris Pukke and his companies, AmeriDebt, Inc. and DebtWorks, Inc., first charged by the FTC in 2003 for tricking consumers into paying at least $170 million in hidden fees.
On March 9, the FTC mailed 78,552 refund checks to consumers swindled by Pukke and his companies, with the amount of each check based on the amount of each consumer's loss.Pukke deceived consumers by claiming AmeriDebt was a nonprofit that could help get them out of debt without an up-front fee, according to FTC allegations. AmeriDebt customers were tricked into making voluntary contributions to enroll, which, instead of being used to pay creditors, were kept as fees without their knowledge.
A 2006 settlement with the FTC cost Pukke nearly all his assets, including a $6.4 million waterfront house in Laguna Beach, California, when he agreed to surrender them to a $35 million compensation fund for consumers. In 2007, Pukke was found in contempt for hiding assets, including a resort in Belize and property held by family and friends.
In September 2008, the FTC refunded $12.7 million to 287,000 former AmeriDebt customers, the largest credit counseling and debt management deception case in FTC history.
Approximately 460,000 victims of 11 credit counseling agencies serviced by DebtWorks between January 31, 1998 and October 7, 2004 were eligible for compensation. Those agencies were: AmeriDebt, Inc., Debticated Consumer Counseling, Inc., A Better Way Credit Counseling, Inc., Credicure, Inc., Mason Credit Counseling, Inc., Nexum Credit Counseling, Inc., Neway, Inc., The Credit Network, Inc., Visual Credit Counseling, Inc., Preactive, Inc., and Debtscape, Inc.
Consumers should cash checks by May 9, 2011. The FTC doesn't require recipients to pay or provide information before cashing checks. Victims who have not previously filed a complaint with the FTC are still eligible to do so. Former AmeriDebt customers with questions should call the redress administrator, Gilardi & Co., LLC , at 888-309-3816 or visit ftc.gov/ameridebt.
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