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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 15, 2003

Blagojevich launches consumer credit education campaign during holiday spending season
Warns Consumers to Beware of Deceptive Credit Counseling Services

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich is launching a consumer education campaign this holiday season to help shoppers who take on excessive debt know where to look for help and how to avoid deceitful credit counseling services. 
                       
“This is the time of year when consumers are most likely to rack-up credit card debt.  It’s critical that we take an aggressive approach to help people who are trying to dig their way out of debt get the information they need to avoid being set back even more by a dishonest debt management service,” Blagojevich said.
 
The state is bringing its debt counseling education materials and information to malls across Illinois from Wednesday, Dec. 17, until Tuesday, Dec. 23.  Booths staffed by members of the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions’ Consumer Credit Division will provide consumers with contact information on licensed debt management services, and their rights as consumers.
 
“We want to be as accessible as possible – and what better venue than a mall during the holiday shopping madness?” said Roxanne Nava, Director of the Department of Financial Institutions (IDFI).
 
Since July, the IDFI has shut down 67 companies for not performing debt management services, even though that is what they purported to be.  An additional 16 companies – with a combined total of 2,389 Illinois customers – have been penalized for operating without licenses and for violating a number of Illinois regulatory rules, including failure to disclose all fees and terms and exceeding the permitted limit on fee amounts.  The companies have been forced to pay more than $10,000 in restitution to consumers and more than $66,000 in penalties.
 
Illinois law limits the amount debt management companies can charge in set-up and monthly fees.  Initial fees for service cannot exceed $50.00, and the median fee a company charges on a monthly basis cannot be more than $30.  One company, Maryland-based AmeriDebt, represented itself as a not-for-profit credit counseling service in Illinois, but charged customers an average of $305 in initial fees and $35 a month in ongoing fees.  The company also failed to register with IDFI, the entity responsible for regulating credit and debt management services. AmeriDebt has since been shut down in Illinois, and the Federal Trade Commission and the states of Missouri and Texas have initiated action against the same company as a result.  
 
“Unfortunately, when people are most desperate for help, they are the easiest targets for scam artists.  This campaign to spread information about legitimate debt counseling services will help reduce the number of victims this year,” Blagojevich added.
 
Consumers can obtain information from IDFI staff at the following locations:
 
Wednesday, Dec. 17:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.                                
Mega Mall – Chicago                                   
2502 N. Milwaukee Ave.                                        
 
Thursday, Dec. 18:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Mega Mall – Chicago                                                           
5220 S. Pulaski                                                                        
 
Saturday, Dec. 20:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.        
Mega Mall – Chicago                                                           
5220 S. Pulaski                                                                        
 
Sunday, Dec. 21:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Mega Mall – Chicago                                                           
3110 W. 26th                                                   
 
Monday, Dec. 22:                  
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.                        10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
University Mall - Carbondale                Mega Mall – Chicago
1237 East Main                                       5220 S. Pulaski
Illinois State Route 13
 
Tuesday, Dec. 23:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Cherryvale Mall – Rockford                                                                              
7200 Harrison Avenue
Intersection of I-39 and Belvidere                                 
 
The Department will add more locations during late December and early January.  For an updated list, or for information about licensed debt management and payday loan providers, please visit the IDFI website at www.state.il.us/dfi or call 312-814-2000, or 217-782-2831.


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