RALEIGH — Approximately 4,300 North Carolina consumers who got trapped in financing deals for overpriced products will get debts forgiven and have their credit repaired, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.
Cooper’s office has secured a $7.3 million settlement with USA Discounters, which also did business as USA Living and Fletcher’s Jewelers. The company financed debts for purchases such as electronics, furniture and jewelry, charging thousands of military personnel and other consumers inflated prices. USA Discounters had locations near military bases across the country, including two in North Carolina near Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, but closed its stores and declared bankruptcy last year.
“Members of our military work at home and abroad to protect our freedoms, but unfortunately that doesn’t stop unscrupulous businesses from trying to take advantage of their hard-earned paychecks,” Cooper said. “My office took action against these shady practices to win relief for military consumers.”
Under the terms of the multistate settlement agreement, which covers 49 states and Washington, DC, USA Discounters will pay approximately $ 95.9 million in total consumer debt relief.
In North Carolina, 4,376 affected consumers, including an estimated 2,000 or more servicemembers, will receive approximately $7.3 million in debt forgiveness.
North Carolina consumers who believe they may be eligible for relief and have questions can email the Attorney General’s office at [email protected] or call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. If you have it, please include in your message your USA Discounters account number, the 11 digit number (eight numbers followed by a dash and three more numbers) located on your contracts with the company. To obtain your account number, contact USA Discounters’ corporate office at 1-800-583-5515 or their Payments and Accounts Center at 1-800-400-7291.
In addition to forgiving consumers’ debts, USA Discounters has until mid-November to make the following reforms:
Waive account balances for customers whose last contract was dated June 1, 2012 or earlier;
Apply a $100 credit to all accounts for contracts dated after June 1, 2012;
Clear negative items related to the financing agreements from consumers’ credit reports;
Write off all judgments not obtained in the correct state; and
Give servicemenbers who were ordered to pay judgments to USA Discounters in the correct state a credit worth 50 percent of the original judgment amount.
An investigation by Cooper and other state attorneys general uncovered evidence that USA Discounters targeted military consumers, issuing advertisements that promised that servicemembers, veterans, and government employees would never be denied credit. Sales personnel used confusing paperwork and misleading sales tactics to rope consumers into paying high prices and huge interest rates for goods like furniture, appliances, televisions, computers, smart phones, and jewelry.
When consumers fell behind on payments, the company filed lawsuits against them in Virginia courts, even though state law requires that debt collection suits be brought in the county in North Carolina where the consumer lives or where the debt was incurred. Many military consumers serving in other parts of the country or abroad were unable to take leave or afford travel to Virginia to defend themselves in court, so USA Discounters won judgments that cost these consumers thousands of dollars and damaged their credit.
Cooper and the other attorneys general also contend that USA Discounters used abusive debt collection tactics, including contacting the chain-of-command about servicemembers’ debts, which could cause them to lose security clearances, hurt their chances of promotion, or even cause demotions.