Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office has charged a Dallas-based debt management firm with defrauding customers by marketing its services through a now-defunct Web site and direct customer emails.

The state's enforcement action sought an asset freeze and temporary restraining order against Shane V. Garner and Credit Alliance Group (CAG) dba Credit Services Today. CAG allegedly used leads purchased on individuals with debt-related problems and contacted them with claims the firm would eliminate 20% to 60% of their outstanding balances within three years.

CAG promised that customers would not owe the firm anything if it failed to deliver on its claim but an investigation revealed customers were charged upfront fees - sometimes up to 35% of the debt they owed - and that CAG failed to deliver on its services.

CAG customers were promised that their payments to the firm would be deposited into separate accounts subject to their control and managed by the firm, according to court documents. State investigators learned that CAG instead deposited/commingled customers' funds into its own operating account.

As a result, customers had no actual control over their own money. Garner also used customer funds to pay his personal bills, according to the AG's office.

CAG clients eventually discovered they could not receive refunds on advance fees paid, nor on the accumulated funds the defendant promised to hold in trust to help manage and resolve their debts. The AG's review of 52 CAG clients' accounts - out of an estimated 800 total accounts - revealed that the firm owes those clients more than $180,000 in escrowed funds.

The AG's office brought the action under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The defendant also failed to register as a debt management services entity with the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, a violation of the Texas Finance Code.

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