Freedom Stores Preyed On Over 250 Service members In New York State; Destroying Credit Ratings
AG’s Settlement Clears Debts & Judgments, Removes Negative Credit Reporting For Service members
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has secured a $540,000 settlement with Freedom Stores, Inc., and Freedom Acceptance Corp. (collectively, “Freedom Stores”) a now-defunct retailer and financing firm based in Norfolk, Virginia, after the companies fraudulently charged hundreds of New York servicemembers who purchased consumer goods from Freedom Stores. The Attorney General’s settlement will clear debt and judgments fraudulently charged to hundreds of New York soldiers at various locations across the United States. Over 250 finance accounts, with balances ranging up to $8,600, and averaging $2,100, will all be brought to zero balances; judgments taken against soldiers by the company will be eliminated, and negative trade lines will be removed with credit reporting bureaus for the New York servicemembers.
"Freedom Stores took advantage of servicemembers using deceptive practices, roping them into high interest contracts and ruining their credit -- and sometimes their military careers. These actions are nothing short of unconscionable. I am proud that we were able to wipe out the debts for hundreds of men and women who stand up for us every day," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "We will keep working to root out fraud and protect our soldiers, who sacrifice so much to protect us.”
The settlement is the result of the Attorney General's office’s investigation into Freedom Stores. The investigation revealed that the practices at Freedom Stores were part of a larger scheme to defraud servicemembers by deceptively selling them consumer goods at wildly inflated prices and locking the soldiers into revolving credit agreements with undisclosed fees and very high interest rates paid directly from military paychecks or personal bank and credit accounts to unlicensed lenders. The debts were aggressively pursued by Freedom, often with no accounting for how or if the payments were being applied to the debt. The collection upon these defective contracts within the state of New York violates state law.
Freedom Stores largely ceased doing business in 2015, but continued to collect on contracts entered into before that date. Debt associated from its business operations continued to impact servicemembers by tainting their credit, and in some instances threatening security clearances or ending military careers.
According to the terms of the settlement, the settling companies will contractually release all of the approximately 257 New York State soldiers from their debt and related judgments. The company will also clear all negative credit reports related to the contracts.
This case is the most recent resolution of a military-related case pursued by Attorney General Schneiderman. Prior work includes:
- Rome Finance Co., Inc. (bankruptcy estate): This settlement released approximately 995 New York soldiers of debt totaling over 3.5 million dollars after they’d been deceptively lured into illegal financing contracts related to consumer goods;
- Integrity Financial of North Carolina/SmartBuy: Attorney General Schneiderman resolved litigation with this finance/retail business, securing over 9.5 million dollars in debt relief for 358 New York State soldiers as well as an additional 3,963 soldiers nationwide, and a $150,000 penalty for the state of New York. Integrity and SmartBuy were part of a larger scheme to defraud servicemembers by deceptively reselling them computers and electronics at wildly inflated prices, and locking soldiers into revolving credit agreements with undisclosed fees, high interest rates, and allotment payments;
- Fort Drum Vehicle Storage: Attorney General Schneiderman intervened to reunite 176 servicemembers with their stored vehicles, discontinued automatic payments, and assisted in compensation for storage fees;
- Rome Finance Company (combined entities): Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of states and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board to a national resolution which shut down Rome Finance, eliminated 92 million dollars of debt relief to over 17,800 affected United States servicemembers worldwide. This settlement included a benefit of over 2.2 million dollars for over 550 New York State consumers;
- LeRay 300, LLC, aka Woodcliff Community: In an ongoing investigation, Attorney General Schneiderman ordered the townhome community to cease and desist collecting fees in violation of the Servicemember Civil Relief Act from servicemembers, violations which are alleged to have occurred when soldiers and their families terminated residential leases early upon receipt of orders for deployment or a permanent change of station; and
- USA Discounters: Participating on the executive committee, Attorney General Schneiderman was part of a multistate effort yielding 40-million dollars in penalties, 95-million dollars in consumer debt relief, of which benefited approximately 759 servicemembers located in New York State, for a benefit of 1.8 million dollars.