The world's largest debt
collection operation, Expert Global Solutions and its subsidiaries, agreed Tuesday
to stop harassing consumers with allegedly illegal debt collection calls and to
pay a $3.2 million civil penalty. It's the largest ever fine obtained by the Federal
Trade Commission against a third-party debt collector.
In its complaint, the FTC charged that the companies violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the FTC Act by using tactics such as calling consumers multiple times per day, calling even after being asked to stop, calling early in the morning or late at night, calling consumers' workplaces despite knowing that the employers prohibited such calls, and leaving phone messages that disclosed the debtor's name, and the existence of the debt, to third parties. According to the FTC's complaint, the companies also continued collection efforts without verifying the debt, even after consumers said they did not owe it.
Under the proposed order, whenever a consumer disputes the validity or the amount of the debt, the defendants must either close the account and end collection efforts, or suspend collection until they have conducted a reasonable investigation and verified that their information about the debt is accurate and complete. The proposed order also restricts situations in which the defendants can leave voicemails that disclose the alleged debtor's name and the fact that he or she may owe a debt.
Also under the proposed order, the defendants must: stop falsely representing that they will not call a number to collect a debt; not harass, oppress, or abuse a consumer while attempting to collect a debt; not communicate with third parties about a consumer's debt; not communicate with a consumer at his or her workplace if it is clearly inconvenient or prohibited by the consumer's employer; except in limited circumstances, cease communications if a consumer has requested no further contact or if a consumer refuses to pay a debt; and not violate any provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The defendants also are required to record at least 75 percent of all their debt collection calls beginning one year after the date of the order, and retain the recordings for 90 days after they are made.
With more than 32,000 employees and revenues in 2011 of more than $1.2 billion, the Texas-based Expert Global Solutions and its subsidiaries - ALW Sourcing, LLC; NCO Financial Systems, Inc.; and Transworld Systems, Inc., which also does business as North Shore Agency, Inc. - collectively are the largest debt collector in the world. In addition to their U.S. offices, the companies operate in Canada, Barbados, India, the Philippines, and Panama.
The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice and to approve the proposed consent decree, was 4-0. The DOJ filed the complaint and proposed consent decree on behalf of the Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on July 8, 2013. The proposed consent decree is subject to court approval.
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