Claimed Debts Were Owed Despite Consumers’ Disputes
A nationwide debt collector has agreed to pay a civil fine of more than $1 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated federal law by inaccurately reporting credit information and pressing consumers to pay debts they often did not owe.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the company and two of its officers illegally tried to collect invalid debts and reported them to the credit reporting agencies without noting that consumers disputed them. In addition, even after receiving information from consumers that a debt was paid off or did not belong to the consumer, the company continued to assert, no longer with a reasonable basis, that the consumer owed the debt, without trying to confirm or dispute the consumer’s information, in violation of the FTC Act.
The FTC charged that the company, Credit Bureau Collection Services, and two of its officers, Larry Ebert and Brian Striker, violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The company also is charged with violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by reporting information to credit agencies that consumers had proved was inaccurate, failing to inform the credit agencies that consumers had disputed the debts, and failing to investigate after receiving a notice of dispute from a credit reporting agency.
In addition to imposing the $1.1 million civil penalty on the company, the settlement order:
- Bars the defendants from further violations;
- Prohibits them from making unsupported statements to collect a debt or obtain information about a consumer;
- Bars them from making claims that a debt is owed or about the amount, without a reasonable basis;
- Requires the defendants, when a debt is questionable or a consumer questions it, to either close the account and end collection efforts or investigate the dispute. If they cannot show that the consumer owes a debt, they cannot sell the debt or provide it to any business other than the original client; and
- Bars the company from re-reporting information to credit reporting agencies that it had voluntarily deleted from credit reporting before December 2008.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to refer the complaint and consent decree to the Department of Justice for filing was 4-0. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
The Commission recently released a video for consumers who are facing debt collection. The video is at www.ftc.gov/MoneyMatters, a site that includes information for consumers on managing credit, dealing with debt, and a variety of other financial topics.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe”
that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law. Consent decrees are for settlement purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent decrees are subject to court approval and have the force of law when signed by the judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and
unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To
file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.