Of course, phantom debt collection – the practice of pressuring people to pay “debts” they don’t owe – harms consumers. But as an FTC complaint demonstrates, when phantom debt collectors strike, they could affect your company, too. According to the FTC, a Florida-based outfit engaged in a scheme to defraud consumers through the collection of debts people didn’t actually owe or the company didn’t have the authority to collect. The complaint charges that the defendants – Hardco Holding Group, S & H Financial Group, Dequan M. Sicard, and Daryl M. Hall (no, not that Daryl Hall) – violated the FTC Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
When contacting consumers, in many instances the defendants allegedly impersonated attorneys and threatened to have people thrown in jail if they didn’t pay up on delinquent payday loans – loans, remember, that many consumers didn’t take out in the first place and defendants didn’t have the right to collect. One tactic involved contacting people with a “case number” and directing them to dial a callback number. On the second call, the defendants allegedly said they were affiliated with named law firms and that the consumer had committed a felony, could go to prison, or faced arrest. According to the complaint, to boost the credibility of their threat of pending or imminent legal action, the defendants claimed to have the consumer’s Social Security number, bank account number, or contact information for family members. Afraid of legal repercussions, many consumers knuckled under to the demand for payment.
The FTC says the defendants also told third parties that consumers owed money, a violation of the FDCPA. In addition, the complaint charges that the defendants didn’t disclose their identity to consumers, failed to provide proper validation notices, and used other false, misleading, and abusive tactics.
Phantom debt collectors unquestionably injure consumers, but how could conduct like that affect your company? According to the lawsuit, when pressed to identify themselves, the defendants often gave the names or addresses of legitimate small businesses that had nothing to do with the purported debt or the debt collectors. When concerned consumers contacted those companies to complain, their employees got an understandably angry earful. From the FTC’s perspective, unrelated small businesses shouldn’t have their reputations sullied by others’ allegedly illegal tactics.
A federal court in Orlando has temporarily halted the operation and frozen its assets. The FTC wants to stop the illegal practices once and for all.
What can consumers do if they’re getting calls for debts they don’t owe? File a complaint with the FTC. How can small businesses help protect their good names? Every now and then, do a selfie search with your company name and a word like “debt.” If you see consumer posts that suggest that a debt collector is illegally using your name – or if your employees are getting complaints about debt collection calls supposedly coming from your company – let the FTC know about it, too.
In the meantime, businesses looking for FDCPA compliance resources can visit the FTC’s debt collection page for some – in the words of the other Daryl Hall (and let’s not forget John Oates) – “Adult Education.”