Smart Solutions Financial Services Promised To Fix Credit, Broke Promises Instead, Customers Tell BBBby Nick LaFleur on Aug. 30, 2011, under alert, Life, scam
Frustrated customers of a Smart Solutions Financial Services company say the business abandoned them after charging them hundreds of dollars each to repair their credit or help them buy homes.
One woman said her involvement with Smart Solutionsultimately could cost her more than $20,000 if she is forced out of her house. Another said that problems with the company could jeopardize the family’s chances of adopting a child by further damaging their credit. Still another disgruntled customer warned: “They robbed me without a pistol.”
Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona suggests caution when dealing with Smart Solutions, which lists an address at 940 Lemay Ferry Rd. in South St. Louis County. Officers of the company have been identified as Steve Scharf, owner and president; Michael Hathman, vice president, and Terry K. Madden, area manager. BBB was unable to determine whether all of the officials remain with the company.
The company has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible, after generating more than 30 customer complaints, about half of them since March. Consumers claim that representatives of the company took up-front payments – usually ranging from $800 to $1,500 each – to improve their poor credit ratings and assist them in purchasing a home through a lease-to-own program. Customers said Smart Solutions did little or nothing to help them and then refused to refund their money.
Kim States, BBB President, said the actions of Smart Solutions reported to the BBB have been “nothing short of reprehensible. For this business to take money from people in financial crisis and then just walk away is outrageous,” she said. “This is an affront to every good business that works hard to satisfy its customers.”
The company’s website, www.smartsolutionsfs.com, says Smart Solutions offers “fast, reliable, professional assistance that can help clients improve all aspects of their net worth and personal financial security.” Services listed on the site include mortgage loan audits, foreclosure investing, a rent-to-own home program (through an affiliate, Leander Realty) and credit repair (through its affiliate Better Credit Life). A photograph on the website’s contact page shows a cluster of modern high-rise buildings. The firm’s actual location is a brick storefront next door to a gas station.
Hathman previously described Smart Solutions as a financial services business and not a credit repair organization. Because of that, he said, the company does not fall under the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, and thus, cannot be prohibited from accepting up-front fees for its services. The act bars credit repair companies from requiring payment until they have completed credit repair services.
BBB has been unable to reach Scharf, the company’s owner and president, or other company officials in recent weeks.
Earlier this year, a Missouri judge ordered Scharf and Smart Solutions to pay $13,000 in back rent and related fees for the company’s previous offices. An attempt to garnish Scharf’s Bank of America account failed when the bank reported no funds were available.
After the company moved to new offices, it again was sued for back rent and attorney’s fees – this time for $1,800. A court agreement allowed it to remain in the building after promising to pay off the debt and make future rent payments.
A chauffeur from Overland, Mo., said she agreed to pay Smart Solutions $600 in December 2009 after company representatives promised to improve her credit score and help her buy a house. She said the company was so convincing that it could improve her credit score that she entered into a rent-to-buy agreement for a house owned by an acquaintance. She received a $9,000 federal grant and used $3,000 of her savings for a down payment. Since then, she has made payments to the home’s owner totaling an additional $11,000. Her credit score has not improved, and she is worried she may lose the house and have to repay the government grant.
“I’m flipping out here,” she said.
A truck driver from Belleville, Ill., said he and his wife paid Smart Solutions $1,350 in January to improve their credit and get them into a house. He said his credit score has actually gone down since he contracted with the company. He found a rent-to-own house without help from Smart Solutions, but he may lose it soon because he cannot get financing. Now, he said, he needs the company to refund his money so he can pay to file for bankruptcy.
“The damage is done,” he said.
BBB offers the following tips for customers seeking help in repairing their credit:
- Be wary of anyone who requires an up-front fee to repair your credit. Such requirements may be against the law.
- Despite promises to “clean up” or “fix” your credit record, accurate up-to-date information in your record cannot be erased. Federal law allows such information to be reported in your file for seven years, 10 years in case of bankruptcy.
- Be suspicious of anyone who offers to help you get into a rent-to-own home by saying that you will be able to get financing once your credit improves. If you are unable to get financing, you could lose your down payment and any other money you may have put into the house.
- Report credit repair fraud to the Federal Trade Commission.