Pennies On The Dollar

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The ads are everywhere by debt negotiation companies; promising a cheap, fast escape from credit card bills.

That's why Marc and Tami Garrison signed up with California-based Briggs and Baker debt consolidators. The promise, they say, was that their $18,000 debt would be settled for 15 cents on the dollar and settled fast.

"It was supposed to be done within 30 days," Tami Garrison told CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

The Garrison's paid nearly $3,700 up front to help repair their credit. At the order of Briggs and Baker, they stopped paying their credit card bills and then watched their world fall apart.

"We had one creditor file a lawsuit against us," said Marc Garrison.

The Garrisons learned that Briggs and Baker hadn't paid the credit card companies -- hadn't even contacted them. And the no-risk money back-guarantee wasn't.

"We asked for our money back," Marc Garrison told Bowen. "They refused."

"I characterize this as a scam," said Bill Mitchell of the Better Business Bureau of Southern California. "I don't know of any other way that you could possibly characterize it."

The Better Business Bureau has rated Biggs and Baker as "unsatisfactory" after receiving more than 200 complaints from people who claim they didn't get what they were promised.

The net effect, said Mitchell, is that "people wind up with their wallets lightened and their credit ruined."

Briggs and Baker CEO Todd Baker doesn't agree. "This has been an engineered attack on this company by insiders and competitors."

The company founder says he's the real victim. He blames his company's problems on an orchestrated campaign by disgruntled ex-employees. His attorney claims the number of complaints is exaggerated.

Attorney Gary Brown said, "We don't get hundreds of complaints. I can assure you of that."

One former employee says the firm deliberately misled clients; a claim the company denies. Daniel Owens says he was about to blow the whistle when he was fired. The company says he was terminated disruptive behavior.

California has issued a consumer warning on the company and ordered the firm to cease operating. The firm is appealing the ruling.

Meanwhile there's a class action lawsuit and a series of suits in small claims court by people who want their money back.

The Garrisons went to court and won their case, but Briggs and Baker is appealing.

And the nightmare for the Garrisons is far from over. The couple filed for bankruptcy to escape the creditors they thought would vanish for pennies on the dollar.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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