The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau yesterday announced an $18 million settlement and stipulated final judgment — most which has been suspended — with a number of individuals and companies who were accused of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by allegedly obtaining individuals’ credit reports illegally and allegedly charging unlawful advance fees for debt relief services.
The defendants — Chou Team Realty, LLC, which does business as Monster Loans; Lend Tech Loans, Inc.; and several student loan debt-relief companies, including DocuPrep Center and Certified Document Center; Certified Doc Prep Services, LP; Assure Direct Services, Inc.; Direct Document Solutions, Inc.; Secure Preparation Services, Inc.; and Docs Done Right, Inc., as well as a number of individuals: Bilal Abdelfattah, who is also known as Belal Abdelfattah and Bill Abdel, Thomas Chou, Sean Cowell, Robert Hoose, Eduardo Martinez, Jawad Nesheiwat, Frank Anthony Sebreros, and David Sklar — allegedly obtained the credit reports of more than 7 million individuals who had student loan debt by telling the credit bureaus it was going to offer them mortgage loans. Instead, the defendants peddled student loan debt relief services. Monster Loans was also accused of helping create a sham company, Lend Tech Loans, which was purported to be a mortgage brokerage, but instead was a front to obtain the credit reports of another 12 million individuals. The CFPB originally filed suit against the defendants in January.
Along with violating the FCRA, the defendants were also accused of violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The $18 million in penalties is being suspended in favor of Monster Loans paying $1 in civil money penalties because it does not have any money. Chou will pay a fine of $350,000 and Cowell will pay $100,000.