World Law Group, one of the largest U.S. debt settlement firms, has been ordered to stop collecting upfront fees for its services, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced.

An investigation by Cooper's office revealed at least 800 consumers in North Carolina paid World Law Group - also known as Swift Rock Financial Inc. - more than $4.1 million for debt settlement services since 2010. Of that amount, World Law Group collected more than $2.6 million in illegal advance fees and used only $527,000, or less than 13%, to pay the consumers’ creditors.

Cooper filed suit against the company, owner Derin Scott and other subsidiaries seeking to stop their illegal debt-relief scheme in the state.

World Law Group markets its services through mailings that claim the firm can help people settle their credit card debt and become debt-free in two to three years, according to Cooper's complaint. The defendants’ program is actually an advance fee scheme that collects thousands of dollars in upfront fees from consumers but rarely obtains any debt relief for them. Under North Carolina law, it’s illegal to collect any upfront fee for debt settlement services.

According to the complaint, World Law Group claims to have a network of local attorneys to help consumers with debts. Cooper’s investigation found no evidence that the group has any licensed attorneys actually helping consumers.

Instead, when sued by creditors, consumers often are given frivolous pleadings to file in court, resulting in some North Carolina district courts sanctioning consumers and causing them even more financial problems.

Wake County (N.C.) Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning, Jr. agreed with Cooper’s request to temporarily halt the defendants from offering debt settlement services in the state. They are barred under the court order from taking payments or entering into contracts with consumers while the case against them goes forward. Cooper’s office is seeking a permanent stop to the company’s activities in North Carolina and refunds for consumers.

The North Carolina State Bar joined in the lawsuit because World Law Group allegedly advertised and offered legal services but is not authorized or licensed to practice law in North Carolina.

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