“I wake up in the morning ready to HELP people!” says the 48-year-old, luxury-car-driving Wolf, who says his “handiwork” has assisted many people who had trouble getting loans. “I guess when I think about it, I spend (the) majority of my day giving back.”
Through NuLife and Credit Slab and other companies he runs from a Calgary office, Wolf maintains he has a client list exceeding 90,000 — clients he says he has helped get back on the road to prosperity.
In an online biography, Wolf says he has achieved “massive success.” His Facebook photos, from the lights of Broadway to the Eiffel Tower to Montego Bay, show a smiling, confident jetsetter. Cars of choice over the years include a Lamborghini.
A Star investigation has found that what Wolf is mainly selling desperate Canadians through his companies is high-interest debt with little transparency.
After seven customers from across Canada said they were misled about the credit score-boosting scheme and the thousands it costs, the Star found Wolf’s companies’ sales tactics and oppressive contractual fine print are luring vulnerable debtors further in the hole.
“I thought what I was getting was a cash loan, but they were quite deceptive,” said customer Charlton Budd of Calgary.
Wolf says his customers are paying off a loan as a way to boost their credit score and get back on their feet.
But the Star found there is no advance of money to the customer’s bank account, just many payments on a phantom loan at 30 per cent interest.
“It’s a loan,” Wolf said. “Not all loans involve you getting money.”
Meanwhile, the clients from Vancouver Island to New Brunswick — including a nursing student, retiree and truck driver — told the Star they received no help or service, only the high-interest loan and a cheap Android tablet that is part of the program.
Said Wolf in an interview with the Star: “Our typical clients are people who had a hardship of some sort and are back on their feet now and want to get their credit back to where it was.”
“There are a lot of fiscally illiterate people in this country,” he said, adding that he periodically waives fees for customers, including veterans and those with disabilities. “It’s an excellent program.”
Wolf is not running the credit repair business for the profit, he told the Star.
“If you know me, I don’t need the money.”
When the Star asked questions about his revenue and personal assets, Wolf threatened to call lawyers and police.
Wolf’s NuLife and Credit Slab programs ask for a lot of money from their cash-strapped customers.
According to the company’s websites, here’s how it works: For Credit Slab, it’s a $599 set-up fee plus $49 every week for three years, then $1,500 cash back upon completion of the program. That totals nearly $7,000.
For NuLife, the customer pays a set-up fee of $499 and then makes $69 biweekly payments for 18 months. That totals nearly $3,200. NuLife does not include an identity-theft protection service and other features advertised in the Credit Slab contract.
“We don’t want to leave anyone behind,” Wolf said of the cheaper program. “We came up with something that’s a little more economic.”
The Star found that in some cases, Wolf did offer a discounted start-up membership fee.
A third-party lender, SkyCap Financial, finances the program for NuLife and Credit Slab customers. In other words, SkyCap gives money to Sheldon Wolf’s companies, and then the customer pays SkyCap back in instalments and with interest.
In return, Wolf says, the customer gets a range of credit repair services, including the Android tablet and app to help manage, monitor and protect his or her credit. And Wolf told the Star he has a credit lab staffed with experts who provide “full comprehensive services” to “genuinely help.”
The problem is, as the Star found during calls to a sales call centre and on the company websites, customers were not told the full story nor, they say, were they delivered what was promised.
Two customers said their tablet did not work properly. None said they received any credit-counselling services. Of the two who have been in the Credit Slab program for at least a year, neither said they have seen a credit score boost attributable to the program.
Citing privacy concerns, Wolf gave only limited responses to individual customer complaints. He said very few of his customers complain, and those who do typically have “fake” complaints or “have failed in the program and most importantly have failed themselves again.”
The Star twice asked Wolf to connect a reporter with satisfied customers but he declined, citing privacy reasons.
With debt loads reaching a crushing high in Canada, credit experts are warning clients to beware of schemes that seek to cash in on vulnerable, sometimes naive debtors.
Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada Debt Solutions, a registered charity that provides counselling services, said she is not surprised Sheldon Wolf is finding customers in this struggling economy.
“People are obsessed about their credit rating. This individual has hit on a very, very soft spot for many who may feel marginalized in society because they can’t get loans, because they can’t get credit cards,” Campbell said.
Timely loan and credit card payments can boost a credit score, a measure that shows lenders a person’s ability to repay a loan. Lenders use credit scores to determine whether a person qualifies for a loan — and at what interest rate.
But Campbell says paying down existing debts, not going further in debt, is a sensible approach to improving a credit score. “What people don’t understand is that it takes a long time to repair (credit); it takes hard work to repair and it takes consistency to repair.”
Struggling to pay off debts, Brian Worrell-Maloney was searching for ways to rebuild his credit score when he saw the promising website.
The company’s homepage advertises the system will help clients “harvest the benefits” of a credit score boost. Images of green grass and seedlings illustrate the credit rejuvenation.
Sales reps say the NuLife system offers those with what one termed “rock-bottom” credit a fast fix for a credit score laid low by setbacks such as bankruptcy or identity theft.
Worrell-Maloney also viewed online video testimonials of Wolf’s system and “people were really happy and excited that their credit had been repaired,” he recalled. “My understanding (was) that I was going to get a loan, some money . . . and I would pay that back.”
Several weeks after joining the program, Worrell-Maloney called and asked when his loan money would arrive.
He was told there was no loan. “They said, ‘What you’re paying off is a revolving trade line.’ They kept saying to me, ‘Please refer to your agreement.’ I started thinking: Oh my God, what did I get myself into?”
He then read the fine print and found it described a transaction that was different from what he said was advertised.
His contract said he owed more than $2,000 at 29 per cent interest over 18 months for a loan that did not flow into his bank account but to Wolf’s company for services it says it provides.
Worrell-Maloney was, and still is, confused. So are six other frustrated customers of Wolf’s credit repair companies. (Though nearly half of the customers interviewed by the Star are from Ontario, it is not known how many of Wolf’s credit repair systems are sold in the province.)
They all say they were hooked by the online or phone pitch and signed up for something that was not fully or properly explained.
“The websites, they’re pretty flashy,” said Budd, an oil-patch ironworker from Calgary, Alta., and Credit Slab customer.
When he was deciding whether to sign up, Budd also viewed the online video titled “Sheldon Wolf Interview for CNN,” in which Wolf is introduced as a forensic credit expert.
The interview was actually produced by a Calgary-based public relations outfit that records “friendly” interviews for a fee, and then posts them on news sites. Wolf’s interview was posted to CNN iReport, a site that the news network hosts but does not edit, fact-check or screen before posting.
Posing as a potential customer, the Star called NuLife four times to try to pin down a clear description of the program.
The story kept changing. One sales rep said the company does give a loan and guaranteed a credit boost after one year. Another said there is no loan but that the customer gets a trade line registered in his name.
A third sales rep revealed yet another version of the NuLife program when he emphasized that the tablet is marked as a loan on the customer’s credit report and that the biweekly loan payments of $69 over 18 months are “doing the heavy lifting” of credit repair. “It looks like you’re paying off something,” the sales rep said.
When told about the calls, Wolf said he was disappointed that his employees did not follow their rigorous training. “It could be that they were new. We’re pretty strict.”
The Star found Wolf has had a setback of his own.
In 2012, he owed $1.4 million to the taxman, and Revenue Canada put a lien on his spacious Calgary home, according to Alberta land title and federal court documents. Wolf refused to answer questions about his debt and the lien, which is still on the home.
When the house was sold to Wolf in 2009, it had an indoor putting green.
Wolf also refused to answer other questions about his profits and assets, calling the questions “wholly inappropriate.”
Online photos show Wolf rink-side for Calgary Flames games at the Saddledome and on numerous trips — in one posting he complained about the service at a luxury car rental service in Las Vegas. Those who know him say he has driven an orange Lamborghini, which is shown on his Facebook page. The Star recently spotted a black Range Rover and black Jaguar at his home.
“Your behaviour seems somewhat rapacious, stalker-like and harassing,” he told a reporter.
Dismissive of customers’ complaints to the Star, he suggested the newspaper was out to create an “over-sensationalized s--- storm based on false or misleading anecdotal testimony.”
“You can be assured,” Wolf added, “that we will be in contact with our lawyers and the police should you continue (to) cross my lines.”
There were four major complaints from customers the Star interviewed, including incomplete loan details, misused signature, no service and “runarounds.”
Incomplete loan details
Kishma Needham, 33, a Toronto nursing student and single mother of three, said she called Credit Slab four times with questions before signing up, and says she was never told about the third-party lender or loan term.
Ironworker Charlton Budd said he signed up in 2013 and also was not told he was committing to a three-year loan at 29.99 per cent. At the time he joined, the total cost of the Credit Slab program was less than it is now.
Wolf told the Star that full program details are spelled out in the contract, along with the interest rate which he said is “prominently displayed” on the on-line application.
“The agreement doesn’t just sign itself,” he said.
Needham said she regrets not reading the contract before signing, saying she believed the sales reps’ assurances.
Since the Star started raising questions to Wolf, the NuLife and Credit Slab websites now have additional information, providing more transparency of the loan.
Since the Star started investigating, the NuLife website now has additional information, providing more transparency of the loan. Wolf did not answer a question about when the changes were made.
Budd alleges that the Credit Slab website prompted him to use his mouse to sign his name — what was described as a digital signature — and later discovered this signature was imposed on a loan document he never signed.
The Star went through the online NuLife application process and confirmed the company takes a signature from the application form and imposes it on loan documents.
The website’s fine print contains a link to a sample loan document that indicates where the digital signature will be imposed once the application is submitted.
The customers also said they received no service from Wolf’s credit lab.
“It’s a kick in the ass every Friday when I see (money) leaving because I’m paying into a service that is non-existent,” Budd said.
“No help. No service,” said Needham, who lives with her three children in a two-bedroom apartment on Jane St. “I never had anyone call, saying you need to do this or that to repair your credit. I don’t know what this service is about.”
Wolf told the Star that customers have to take his program seriously. “It’s like a gym membership. You still have to go to the gym and work out.”
Needham, who was on social assistance at the time she signed up, said she was told by a sales rep that she could cancel her Credit Slab membership after one year. When she tried to cancel, she said she was told by another company official that the sales rep was mistaken and that Needham was locked in for two more years.
Wolf, in his responses to the Star, said Needham never told the company she thought the contract was for just one year.
A review of a NuLife and Credit Slab contract shows fees, penalties and restrictions that allow Wolf and the lender to maximize their take from the customer and quell possible complaints.
Wolf said the contract language is standard and meant to protect his companies from the minority of customers who do not keep up their end of the deal.
The contract, which also refers to the pre-interest cost of the program as “membership fees,” includes the following clauses:
“Under no circumstances will there be any refunds of any membership fees paid,” and the company will not reply to any such requests.
The company makes no guarantee the program will repair a customer’s credit or that the loan information will even be posted to the customer’s credit profile.
The company can modify the contract at any time without the customer’s consent.
Any customer lawsuit must be filed within six months of the company’s alleged wrongdoing or “be forever barred.”
In the portion of the contract dealing with the third party lender, SkyCap Financial, a clause stipulates that if the customer makes a legal claim against SkyCap over its right to enforce the contract, the customer must also pay SkyCap’s legal defence fees.
Charlton Budd recently saw that fine print in action when he emailed Wolf and the lender to request copies of emails, contracts and other information in his file.
In his emails, sent in January, Budd said he was duped, is paying for a non-existent service and will contact the authorities about the “fraudulent activities.”
Wolf responded, saying: “Quite frankly I will caution you to refrain from making further slanderous statements. Your file will be sent off to our legal department.”
A representative from the lender — another financing firm run by the same man who runs SkyCap — told Budd in an email that “Any and all erroneous, derogatory remarks . . . will be vigorously defended by the legal representative . . . with all costs and fees charged to the claimant.”
Debt counsellor Campbell said: “That seems unreasonable … I have never heard of a company trying to shut down a customer’s expressed concerns.”
In late February, after Budd wrote a further letter of complaint to Wolf, Wolf emailed him back, saying his company was willing to “help you with your personal credit matters on a pro-bono basis.”
SkyCap’s president Jeremy Wilson told the Star his company has never billed such legal costs to a customer.
He said Wolf is “very good at what he does” and has a lot of satisfied clients who are now able to access mortgages and car loans on better terms than previously possible.
“We regularly waive fees, we regularly change payment dates (and) defer payments” to help clients succeed in the program, Wilson added.
Wolf echoed that point. “It doesn’t make sense to put someone on the program and have them go off the tracks,” he said. “It makes our program look like a failure.”
Meanwhile, two of Wolf’s customers told the Star they continue making regular payments because they fear the unpaid loan instalments will be reported and their credit scores dropped.
“Poor people are just getting the crap kicked out of them by this guy,” Budd said of Wolf. “There were times when I could not afford to eat and yet that (money) had to go in there just so it wouldn’t screw my credit.
“At a 29.99 per cent interest rate, for a loan that I had never seen . . . for a service that does absolutely nothing, that’s crazy, man.”
Author: David Bruser