Page last updated at 03:40 GMT, Sunday, 9 August 2009 04:40 UK

'Misleading' debt firms shut down

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The MoJ said some firms falsely claimed to be able to write off debts

One hundred companies offering to write off debts or secure personal injury compensation have been shut down by the Ministry of Justice since April 2007.

MoJ spokesman Kevin Rousell said they had been guilty of making misleading claims and using high-pressure sales tactics to get people to pay huge fees.

"People desperate for a way out of their financial troubles can be vulnerable," he said.

Consumers were warned to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true.

The BBC's Colette Hume said many claims management firms targeted people who owed large sums to credit card or loan companies.

And with the industry growing quickly it was becoming increasingly difficult to police, she added.

Cold calling

The MoJ said some of the firms shut down had been using misleading advertising, claiming credit card debt could be written off within six weeks or that 80% of credit agreements were unenforceable.

In other cases, companies ignored requests for information from the government's claims regulator or were run by people who had convictions for fraud.

There has been a trend towards high-pressure cold calling from call centres
Kevin Rousell, Ministry of Justice

Rules state that firms must not cold-call potential customers in person and must allow a cooling off period of at least 14 days for anyone considering taking up an agreement.

But instead, some were found to be forcing already debt-ridden customers to pay large up-front fees only for the service to later fall through.

Mr Rousell said most claims management companies were operating within the rules.

"However, some companies choose to flout those rules and some also target consumers who find themselves in debt," he said.

"People desperate for a way out of their financial troubles can be vulnerable to the misleading marketing that the Ministry of Justice Claims Management Regulator is continuing to tackle.

"There has also been a trend towards high-pressure cold-calling from call centres, including making unsubstantiated claims and encouraging people into handing over fees there and then - a decision they regret later."

Mr Rousell said claims companies must give customers accurate information about the realistic chances of success and the costs involved in taking up their services.

They must also not pressurise anyone into making on-the-spot decisions or handing over money without properly considering the facts.

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