Complaints, lawsuits and unsatisfied judgments against Don Antle and his firm, Options Credit Services Canada Ltd., are piling up, but they’re still in business
By David Baines, Vancouver Sun columnist
Don Antle, president of Options Credit Canada Ltd. and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd., is ostensibly in the business of helping consumers manage their debts, but his principal occupation appears to be fishing for investors.
Antle and Options Credit Services are licensed as debt poolers by Consumer Protection B.C. (CPBC), which operates as the provincial government’s consumer watchdog.
Debt poolers offer to negotiate with creditors and consolidate monthly payments into a single lump sum, then disburse the funds to creditors. Clients are charged a fee for the service.
Antle, a 58-year-old Chilliwack resident, has sold at least 15 licences for his consumer debt consolidation business, most for $15,000 each plus tax.
The licensees are not happy. They claim Antle promised to send them customer leads and provide other types of support, but failed to do so. Four have filed lawsuits. Others don’t see any point, as collection appears futile.
As previously noted, Antle’s track record includes a personal bankruptcy, a drug trafficking charge (he was acquitted) and a cease-and-desist order issued by the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission.
He is clearly a difficult person to do business with.
He and/or his companies have been named as defendants in at least 20 civil suits (aside from the four mentioned above).
Although Antle purports to be offering debt consolidation services to the public, it’s not clear that he has many clients.
“We know the firms that are active in the industry,” Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit society that offers free credit counselling services, said in an interview this week.
“We don’t see (Antle’s companies) active in the marketplace or hear about them from consumers, which leads me to believe they are not actively engaged, or have a very small presence in terms of debt-pooling services.”
It’s clear, however, that Antle has been very active in soliciting people to invest in his business.
One of the main promotional tools he used is the fact that Options Credit Services holds a provincial debt-pooling licence. He also promised to arrange government debt-pooling permits for his licensees, but has failed to do so.
Meanwhile, he continued to send client leads to his licensees, thereby inducing them to engage in debt-pooling transactions without them being properly licensed.
Many of the licensees didn’t know they were not properly licensed because their licence agreement prohibited them from contacting CPBC without his permission. Otherwise, they would be subject to immediate termination with no compensation.
Another worrisome thing is that Antle stated in court documents in September 2012 that Options Credit Services (the entity licensed to conduct debt pooling business, which involves taking client money into trust) is insolvent.
This is reinforced by the fact that two licensees who obtained judgment against this company have been unable to collect.
None of this has slowed Antle, however. He has simply shifted gears and is now soliciting equity investments in Options Credit Services.
In an April 4 email pitch to a licensee who posed as a prospective investor, he described himself as the firm’s “chief success officer” and portrayed the firm as profitable since inception.
He said the firm recently launched “Debt Works Canada,” which he described as “a stand-alone fund that will purchase our best clients’ debt early to allow a faster return to credit health.”
He said Debt Works has a professional fund manager and already has institutional financing commitments of over $300,000. “It’s an industry game changer,” he gushed, adding that he expects the fund to be managing $100 million within five years, which would make the business worth $30 million.
“If you do not have a minimum of $25,000 to put in comfortably with a further commitment based on the above, this opportunity probably isn’t for you,” he stated.
Meanwhile, disgruntled licensees have been filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau of the Lower Mainland.
On April 17, the BBB gave Options Credit Canada Ltd. (which unlike Options Credit Services is not licensed to conduct debt-pooling business) an “F” rating, which is its lowest possible rating.
BBB explained that the company had been posting online ads offering to sell “debt management licences” for $15,000 each with projected first year earnings of $56,000, plus a buyback option.
“Upon request, the company could not provide any licensees who have earned in excess of $56,000. The BBB interviewed four licensees whose investments ranged from $15,000 to $25,000, and none of the licensees have made any earnings in the expected range proposed in the ads, and none of the licensees interviewed have received the monies promised from buy back option.”
The BBB further noted that the company promised to ensure “all licenses and government permissions, but is not a licensed debt pooler in B.C. and doesn’t have the authority to issue debt management licences.”
It noted that the company’s owner (presumably Antle) acknowledged this concern and had advised that the licensee program “is on hold until it meets provincial licensing requirements.”
That same day, April 17, Antle sent an email to licensees announcing that “effective immediately the Options Credit Canada licensee program will be discontinued.”
However, rather than blaming himself, he blamed disgruntled licensees who had been posting “vicious” and “dishonest” reports on the Internet.
“This continued online negative presence has rendered the operation of the program untenable,” he said.
He said each licensee “will be offered an employment option with the company that will allow you to continue earning the exact same commission and first fees remuneration as you enjoy now.”
So far Antle has not made that employment offer. Regardless, the offer appears specious because many licensees have already made it clear that their present level of compensation is inadequate (and in some cases, non-existent).
So where is the regulator in all this?
In an email this week, CPBC said it had received a complaint from a licensee in 2011, but took the position that the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act does not apply to this sort of business-to-business transaction.
However, it said it has received another five complaints from licensees during the last month.
Those complaints contain “new information that we are in the process of assessing for the potential application of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act,” the email explained.
I don’t sense much urgency, however. CPBC told one licensee who complained on April 26 that an investigator would contact him within a week, but never did.
Meanwhile, Antle and his Options Credit Services remain licensed debt-poolers in good standing.