FORT BRAGG — More than 1,300 North Carolina military service members who got caught by a scheme to finance purchases of overpriced electronics will have their debts forgiven and their credit cleared, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced last month.
Following a multiyear investigation, Cooper’s office has secured a $6.8 million global settlement with Rome Finance, which also did business as Colfax Capital Corporation and Culver Capital, LLC. The companies financed debts for military consumers’ purchases of computers, gaming systems and other electronics, including those sold by SmartBuy, a Fayetteville-based electronics retailer that charged thousands of military personnel inflated prices. SmartBuy operated a chain of retail stores in shopping malls near military bases around the country, including locations near Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
Cooper contended that SmartBuy tricked customers into paying two to three times the value for electronics. Salespeople allegedly targeted military personnel based on their uniforms or military-style haircuts, promising great deals on pricey electronics like computers and televisions.
Consumers then filled out a credit application and signed a financing agreement with Rome, Colfax or Culver but weren’t given accurate information about what they would have to pay for that financing. Through cryptic paperwork and pushy sales tactics, customers were roped into excessive financing agreements with interest rates upwards of 200 percent, which is far in excess of North Carolina lending laws. Customers were left with bad credit and mountains of debt.
Some members of the military can be susceptible to schemes like this one for several reasons. Service members stationed at military bases may be young, new to financial dealings, and earning a steady paycheck for the first time. SmartBuy took advantage of this and withdrew payments directly out of customers’ bank accounts.
The settlement requires approximately $92 million in debt forgiveness for more than 17,000 U.S. military personnel and other consumers nationwide, including debts of $6.8 million owed by 1,328 North Carolina service members. Service members may keep the merchandise they purchased.
The settlement also requires the defendants to clear all negative items related to the financing agreements from military consumers’ credit reports.
In addition, the settlement liquidates Rome Finance and bans Colfax, Culver and two of their owners, Ronald Wilson and William Collins, from the consumer lending business.
Military personnel and their family members may file a consumer complaint with the attorney general’s office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina, or by filling out the complaint form at ncdoj.gov.
Cooper’s office has also put together a guide for military consumers, available at ncdoj.gov/military.aspx and distributed to military installations statewide.
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