EL MIRAGE, Ariz. -- Patricia Aker says living on a teacher’s salary is difficult.
“For many years, it's been payday to payday,” she said.
To help bring in more income, Aker wanted to open a teaching supply store. But when the economy went bust, so did her business, which left Aker nearly $30,000 in debt.
“We had $28,000 in credit card debt that was accumulated through the business,” she explained.
Around that time, Aker says she heard a radio commercial for a Scottsdale company called the J. Hass Group. She called and says the J. Hass Group promised, for a $4,200 fee, to negotiate down her credit card debt.
Aker signed up for the program and agreed to put $477 a month into an account that she and J. Hass both had access to. That money was supposed to be divided up and sent to credit card companies to help reduce her balances.
Aker says J. Hass even gave her a box to hook up to her house phone which she says would re-direct incoming calls from debt collectors to J. Hass.
However, 17 months and $8,000 later, she says only a fraction of the money she's paid was actually used to pay down her debt.
“I've paid them almost $8,000 and they've paid $1,000 of my credit cards,” she said, and clarified the amount was closer to $1,200.
3 On Your Side got involved and discovered that the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions issued a cease and desist order against the J. Hass Group last September accusing it of "engaging in unlicensed activity as a debt management company." The business was also ordered to pay a $50,000 penalty.
The J. Hass group has more than 150 complaints and an F-rating with the Better Business Bureau.
3 On Your Side contacted the J. Hass Group and in an email were told the business was sold to a foreign corporation late last year which might explain why their Scottsdale offices are cleared out.
J. Hass also disputes it did anything illegal as a debt settlement company and is appealing the penalty and other findings in the cease and desist order.
A judge is expected to make a decision October 11.
Aker, meantime, says she's now working directly with her credit card companies and realizes she could've put the $8,000 she spent with the J. Hass Group to better use by paying down her debt on her own.
“I think, for me, the ultimate goal is just to make people aware that these companies aren't really out to take care of you. They're just out to make a dollar," she said.