Debt consolidation service providers ordered to pay over $2 million in fines and restitution
BALTIMORE, MD (August 22, 2022) – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh today announced that his Consumer Protection Division has issued a Final order against Marcia L. Bailey and Arthur Wittenberg and their entities, Marcia Bailey Inc. trading as Signature Accounting and the Wittenberg Family Trust, for violating the Consumer Protection Act when they collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from consumers to help them consolidate and pay off outstanding consumer debt, but failed to deliver the promised services.
From their offices in Baltimore, Bailey and Wittenberg targeted victims who resided in Maryland and other states. In June 2021, Attorney General Frosh obtained a preliminary injunction from the Baltimore County Circuit Court restraining Bailey, Wittenberg and their entities from offering or selling debt consolidation services from Maryland. The final order issued this week by the Consumer Protection Division includes a permanent injunction that restrains Bailey, Wittenberg and their entities from further harming consumers, as well as an order requiring them to pay a fine of $1,246,000. $ and return any funds they have collected from consumers who have not received promised services. Together, the total payments are expected to exceed $2 million.
“Marcia Bailey and Arthur Wittenberg deceived and defrauded consumers by promising that the Wittenberg Family Trust’s ‘private bank debt liquidation program’ would save consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars, pay off unpaid consumer debts in a shorter time frame than the original loan terms, and improve consumer credit scores,” Attorney General Frosh said. “Instead, they took the money for themselves while consumers repossessed their cars and homes threatened with seizure.”
Bailey, Wittenberg and their entities charged consumers an upfront fee of between $11,000 and $118,000 for the services, followed by charging additional amounts that were supposed to be used to pay off consumers’ outstanding debts. Rather than providing the services purchased by consumers, Bailey and Wittenberg wrongly converted most consumer payments for their own personal uses. The Division found that the eight consumers who testified at the hearing owed at least $772,939 for payments made to Bailey, Wittenberg and their entities for services that were not provided. Rather than helping consumers consolidate and eliminate their debts, Bailey and Wittenberg only helped themselves.
In Maryland, individuals who provide certain types of debt consolidation services must be licensed by the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation of the Maryland Department of Labor.
Before entering into contracts for such services, consumers should check a provider’s licensing status with https://www.dllr.state.md.us/finance/industry/licsearch.shtml.
In addition, persons who provide mortgage assistance services, credit services, funds transfer services and debt management services are generally prohibited from collecting upfront fees from consumers and, in addition to other requirements, must obtain a bond and provide consumers with specific information, notices and other information regarding consumer rights.
For more information, consumers can call the Consumer Protection Helpline at 410-528-8662 or toll-free at 888-743-0023.