According to the complaint, the debt collection operation engaged in a variety of illegal debt collection practices, including:
- “Masquerading” as law-enforcement officials, government officials or attorneys.
- Falsely threatening debtors with arrest, criminal prosecution, service of legal process at their residences or workplaces, civil lawsuits, civil liabilities or penalties, wage or tax-refund garnishments, liens on vehicles and homes and the freezing of assets.
- Using profane or abusive language when communicating with debtors.
- Impermissibly communicating about alleged debts with third-party contacts such as extended family members or otherwise contacting, or threatening to contact, debtors at their place of employment.
- Withholding, or failing to provide, debt validation and other notices or otherwise refusing to respond to such notices.
- Attempting to collect debts that were not owed by the debtor, including debts previously paid or discharged in bankruptcy.
- Assessing impermissible or unauthorized charges.
- While the complaint’s breadth is perhaps surprising, the alleged violations themselves are relatively “well settled” areas of concern for the FTC, CFPB and other enforcement authorities.
The FTC’s action was taken as part of its ongoing “Operation Corrupt Collector” initiative, a nationwide law enforcement and outreach program launched in conjunction with over 50 federal and state law enforcement partners and aimed at illegal debt collection practices. To date, Operation Corrupt Collector encompasses more than 50 enforcement actions against debt collectors with two common themes: illegal threats or abusive collection communications and collection of debt that cannot legally be collected or that a consumer does not owe (i.e., “phantom debt collection”). In addition to the FTC’s actions, Operation Corrupt Collector includes two cases filed by the CFPB, three criminal cases brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service as well as state-level activity in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.