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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC charges company with passive debt collection

Federal Issues FTC Courts Enforcement Debt Collection Phantom Debt Credit Report

Federal Issues

On November 30, the FTC announced a stipulated order entered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against a debt collection company and three of its officers (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly engaging in passive debt collection in violation of the FTC Act, the FDCPA, and the FCRA. According to the complaint, the defendants would place debts that consumers did not owe or the defendants were not authorized to collect on consumers’ credit reports without first attempting to communicate with the consumers about the debts. The complaint alleges further that consumers often did not discover these debts until they “threatened to interfere with an important, time-sensitive transaction.” The FTC alleges that each month, after receiving and investigating complaints from consumers, the defendants would determine between 80 to 97 percent of disputed debts were inaccurate or invalid. However, the defendants continued to collect on unauthorized debts “[d]espite the persistent inaccuracies.”

The defendants neither admit nor deny the allegations in the settlement order. In addition to the $24,300,000 in monetary relief, which is partially suspended due to the inability to pay (with one officer and corporate defendant required to pay over $56,000), the order also, among other things, (i) prohibits the defendants from furnishing credit information prior to communicating with the consumer; (ii) requires the defendants to request deletion of any debts reported prior to the order; and (iii) bars the defendants from engaging in unlawful debt collection practices.

The vote authorizing the complaint and settlement was 4-1, with Commissioner Chopra voting no, arguing that the agency should work “in concert” with the CFPB for debt collection enforcement in order to “help make victims whole through access to the CFPB's Civil Penalty Fund and reduce duplicative efforts.”

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