Years ago, we wrote up Optima Tax Relief, as yet another in a long string of tax relief companies we’re highlighting to show people the ins and outs of this industry. At the time, the late Alan Thicke was their commercial pitchman. Treat that as a starting point.
Recently, your humble author checked out TaxRise, and discovered that it was also part of a large conglomerate of similar companies all owned by the same people behind Optima Tax Relief! In fact, we’ve found several companies connected to the Optima network. Take that as “chapter two.”
But we got curious about Optima Tax Relief and its many, many, MANY connections to, well, everything debt-related. And this information deserves so much more exposure.
Your new word for the day is “debt vulture.”
…which is a kind of business that specifically preys on those who are in debt. That can mean tax relief, or general debt relief or consolidation, credit repair, reverse mortgages, and so on. It’s a term we learned from an Australian consumer advocacy site, where apparently Australia has a problem with this industry too.
Likewise, the United States has a debt vulture industry, and it’s huge! It goes on forever, basically taking advantage of people in dire straights by charging them outrageous fees for little to no service, sometimes even an outright scam. Beyond the other industries we’ve also covered, there are payday and car title loans, mortgage loan modifications, high-interest credit offers, and much more.
Keep some of those above terms in mind, while we explore who owns Optima Tax Relief and what else they own.
The owners of Optima Tax Relief
Based in Santa Ana, California, the people associated with Optima Tax Relief include:
- Harry Langenberg
- Jesse Stockwell
- Jesse Torres
Wikis like the one we link to are based on matters of public record because corporations are required by law to disclose certain key facts. We have already mentioned that Optima Tax Relief’s business model seems to be an offer mill attached to a referral boiler room, with little else happening. But here’s a few more companies owned or managed by those same persons:
- Loan now of Texas – advertises “quick installment loans, money in minutes”
- Debtmerica – a debt settlement company
- Supermoney – a review site that openly gives preference to this family of businesses
- Alliance Financial Capital – seems defunct now, but used to be a loan service
- LendingPoint Mortgage Corporation – another loan company
- Prime Advantage Funding Corp. – a loan and mortgage company
By now you’re recognizing a pattern. Every business these people run has just one kind of customer: desperate people in debt! Now there’s nothing wrong with that per se, maybe if you’re a devoted Robin Hood. But desperate people in debt are also easy targets for scams and predatory business practices in general. This brings us to one big revelation:
The New York State Attorney General Investigated Debtmerica
In fact, Debtmerica was just one of many investigated in a major sweep of the debt settlement industry in 2009. Here are his findings on Debtmerica. Findings of Debtmerica may be viewed in full here, but we can paraphrase that these findings include…
- that Debtmerica is actually just referring cases over to Freedom Debt Relief LLC (FDR) or Century Negotiations, Inc.
- that Debtmerica’s an advertising and marketing make claims, but “rarely provide the claimed results”
- that Debtmerica has engaged in false advertising and deceptive practices
Plus this paragraph is worth quoting in full:
> “Many consumers, already financially pressed, are not able to maintain the strict monthly deposit schedule mandated by the program. Consequently, in many instances, consumers have no choice but to drop out of the program, before (FDR) has negotiated settlements for most of the consumer’s enrolled accounts. This often leaves FDR and Debtmerica with its fees paid in full (or almost in full), and consumers in a worse position than before joining the program.”
In fact, Debtmerica was fined 175K and its actual corporate being, Freedom Debt Relief (FDR), was fined $3.6 million.
That’s the story behind just one of the companies co-owned by the owners of Optima Tax Relief. But remember, even Optima is only the tip of the iceberg; it is part of Optima Financial Group, LLC, which as the name suggests is an umbrella corporation encompassing more companies that have just one kind of customer: desperate people in debt!
Dubious tax relief companies seem to be modeled after dubious debt relief companies
This is just one case, and it takes a fantastic amount of digging to uncover it. Cases like this go by every day. In October of 2010, the FTC busted American Tax Relief LLC for $60 million dollars in fees scammed from innocent consumers, using the exact same playbook as Debtmerica. The Minnesota State AG warns about tax relief scams. The Michigan AG has a consumer alert about tax debt resolution scams. FOX News Business Report warns about tax relief scams. It is a common thing.
And it is unbelievably hard to track down with companies that are shells for other companies, owned by networks of people who keep the entire enterprise spread across multiple LLCs so it’s impossible to track. Perhaps, as many are advocating, it is time for stricter consumer protection standards.