The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week acted to halt the activities of one such company, Student Aid Institute, saying that the company, based in San Diego, illegally tricked borrowers into paying fees for federal benefits. It was the latest in a series of actions against debt relief firms over the last two years. “We see more and more companies and websites demanding large upfront fees to help student loan borrowers enroll in income-driven plans that are available for free,” the bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, said in a statement. The bureau said Student Aid Institute reaped millions of dollars in advance fees from thousands of customers for its services. The company charged borrowers hundreds of dollars upfront — as much as $495 — in violation of federal law, which requires that at least one debt must be renegotiated or reduced before a fee can be collected for debt relief services, the bureau said. The company also charged maintenance fees of $39 a month. In an administrative consent order, the bureau directed the company to stop its debt relief operations and cancel all contracts with its customers. The company’s chief executive, Steven Lamont, must also pay a $50,000 fine.
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