Announcing its first coordinated enforcement initiative with federal, state, and local authorities targeting deceptive and abusive debt collection practices, the Federal Trade Commission filed five new enforcement actions.
To date in 2015, Operation Collection Protection includes 115 total actions by more than 70 law enforcement partners in the initiative, challenging defendants who allegedly used illegal tactics that include harassing phone calls, false threats of litigation and arrest, and wage garnishment. Actions were also brought against companies that attempted to collect "phantom debts," that failed to provide legally required disclosures and notices, and collectors that neglected to comply with state and local licensing requirements.
"Being in debt is stressful enough for many Americans without also being subjected to intimidation and false threats," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement about the initiative. "Debtors have certain rights, and rogue collectors that step outside the law will face the consequences of illegal behavior."
To illustrate the continuing efforts of the Operation, the FTC announced five new enforcement actions.
In one case, the agency alleged that BAM Financial relied upon "intimidation, lies, and other unlawful tactics" to get consumers to pay their debts. They threatened consumers with lawsuits, wage garnishment, and arrest by impersonating process servers and attorneys in the process, the FTC said. Employees at the company lied to a consumer's 84-year-old mother, telling her that they had a warrant for her daughter's arrest. Another consumer was told her wages would be garnished and she would be unable to see her children if she did not pay her debt.
BAM Financial workers also unlawfully disclosed debts to third parties, failed to identify themselves as debt collectors, and did not inform consumers of their right to obtain verification of the purported debts, the FTC said. A California federal court judge granted the FTC's motion to halt the company's operations.
In a second case jointly filed with the New York Attorney General, the authorities claimed that Delaware Solutions tried to collect debts the company knew were fictitious. The defendant purchased payday loans from a third party that allegedly told Delaware Solutions that the debts were invalid. Even when presented with evidence from consumers that they never authorized the loans, the company continued its efforts to collect.
Similar to BAM Financial, Delaware Solutions falsely threatened arrest or litigation of consumers, posed as process servers or attorneys to trick consumers and failed to identify themselves as debt collectors. They also unlawfully disclosed debts to third parties, the FTC said. A federal court judge in New York granted the AG and FTC's motion to halt the company's operations.
Of the other three actions announced by the FTC, one was filed under seal and two defendants reached deals with the agency to settle the cases. K.I.P. LLC agreed to a ban on working in the debt collection business pursuant to a settlement with the agency and the Illinois Attorney General, and promised to pay $6.4 million. National Check Registry also accepted a ban from participating in the debt collection industry to settle the suit brought by the FTC and New York AG and agreed to pay $112,000 and surrender cars and boats.
To read the FTC's press release about Operation Collection Protection and the latest enforcement actions, click here.
Why it matters: The initiative comprises the largest-ever number of enforcement actions against abusive debt collectors and includes a total of 34 federal actions and 86 actions on the state and local levels. The FTC revealed that it has sued more than 250 debt collectors since 2010, securing $350 million in judgments and banning 86 collectors from the industry. So far in 2015, the agency said it has secured final judgments in seven cases against debt collectors, which include over $88 million in judgments, 24 defendants banned from working in debt collection, and 33 defendants placed under orders of the federal court.