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State, bar officials monitor debt-management companies 

Use of local lawyers may be OK – or may be a sidestep around restrictions

Ten months ago, the debt settlement industry suffered a double setback in North Carolina: A lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenged its advance fee practices, while the Federal Trade Commission issued a regulation that prohibited client enrollment over the phone. The result? An ongoing game of cat-and-mouse, as debt settlement companies use local attorneys to test whether they can sidestep those limits. The new FTC rule seems to have had a deterrent effect on the debt settlement industry, said Lynne Weaver, assistant N.C. attorney general in the consumer protection division. So far, the number of consumer complaints is down this year and most of the ones consumers filed are about deceptive practices that go back a year or more.

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