MILWAUKEE -- Promises of paying off huge bills backfired on a Milwaukee woman. FOX6's Contact 6 says a simple internet search could have saved her thousands of dollars.
Jackie Criscimanga is still dealing with a pile of bills 10 years after a nearly fatal car accident. She owes about $20,000 and feels the pressure to pay.
"Bad things happen to good people. Guy walked up in my yard, middle of the afternoon, and summoned me. That was the first time that ever happened, so I was like 'oh no!'" Criscimanga said.
Criscimanga found a debt relief company online called "Legal Helpers Debt Resolution." For $267 a month, Criscimanga said Legal Helpers agreed to pay down her debt, but after eight months, Criscimanga wasn't seeing any results.
"They said they were putting my money into a bank account that was designated for me but I didn't have access to it. In the end, when I finally did cancel, they told me there was no money in my account. That every payment for the first nine months went towards fees. Quite a bit of fees for no service at all," Criscimanga said.
A quick internet search for "Legal Helpers Debt Resolution" leads to pages of complaints against the company and an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. Also -- a government action against the company in Illinois, banning it from operating in the state.
The complaint says "Legal Helpers" charges advanced fees, which is illegal, and that many consumers, like Criscimanga, say their financial situation is worse after enrolling in the program.
The complaint shows the company settled with customers for more than $2 million.
Over the phone, Chris Burke, owner of "Fast Track Debt Relief," -- part of "Legal Helpers" said the company "has thousands of clients who get their debt settled," that Criscimanga is "just trying to stir something up," and that Contact 6 should do a report on "how consumers extort companies."
Burke would not provide proof "Legal Helpers" paid any of Criscimanga's creditors.
"That shouldn't be legal. It shouldn't be legal to take that amount of money upfront and not do anything. Then they argue and say 'oh we've done a lot for you.' Prove it," Criscimanga said.
Contact 6 says consumers should do their homework on these companies. Beware of companies that want you to pay fees upfront, or guarantee to make your debt disappear. Also, beware of companies advising to stop paying bills.
Contact 6 advises calling creditors to tell them you're having problems, and ask for lower interest rates. Contact 6 says if you work with the, they should work with you.