Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

January 16, 2002 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., announced today that his office’s Consumer Protection Division has ordered a Baltimore company, Fresh Start Financial Services, Inc. and its president, Joel Bowden, to pay a $164,500 penalty for offering credit repair services that are ineffective and illegal to consumers, including offering to remove accurate information from consumers’ credit histories. Fresh Start and Mr. Bowden were further ordered to cease offering credit repair services and to pay restitution to consumers they harmed.

The Maryland Credit Services Businesses Act and United States Credit Repair Organizations Act require credit repair companies to inform consumers that they have the right to obtain information about their credit histories from credit reporting agencies, and they have the right to dispute the accuracy of information in their credit records, that accurate information in a consumer’s credit record may not be permanently removed. Contrary to these laws, Fresh Start did not advise consumers of these rights and promised to remove negative information from consumers’ credit records even though the information was accurate.

Under state and federal law, credit repair companies are also prohibited from charging or accepting advance payment for their services. In violation of these laws, Fresh Start charged a $150 retainer and a monthly fee of $75 for services before they were rendered. Fresh Start also violated Maryland law by failing to post a bond with and obtain a license from the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation.

"Consumers should steer clear of quick-fix offers to repair their negative credit histories because the services offered often are ineffective or even illegal," said Attorney General Curran. "If you have negative information in your credit report that is accurate, no credit repair company can have it removed."

Fresh Start operated at 2425 Maryland Avenue in Baltimore between June 1999 and mid-2000, when it closed following the filing of charges by the Consumer Protection Division.