A leading debt collection company has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2.8 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its aggressive collection techniques violated federal law. As part of its efforts to protect consumers affected by the struggling economy, the FTC alleged that West Asset Management, Inc. violated the FTC Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
According to the FTC’s complaint, thousands of consumer complaints have been filed against West Asset Management Inc., which employs 1,500 debt collectors in 13 states and one offshore location. West Asset Management debt collectors allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by calling consumers multiple times each day, often regarding accounts that did not belong to them, and sometimes using rude and abusive language. The FTC further charged that West Asset Management also illegally disclosed the existence of consumers’ debts to third parties and ignored consumers’ written demands that West Asset Management stop calling them.
The company also allegedly withdrew funds from consumers’ bank accounts or charged their credit cards without consent and falsely claimed that consumers would be sued, arrested, or have their property seized for nonpayment of their debt. In addition, the FTC alleged that West Asset Management falsely claimed that partial payments would be accepted as full settlement on accounts and that negative information would stay on consumers’ credit reports until debts were paid. According to the complaint, West Asset Management has collected on more than 24 million accounts on behalf of clients in the healthcare, telecommunications, consumer credit, and government service industries.
The settlement imposes a $2.8 million civil penalty, which is the largest civil penalty obtained by the FTC in a debt collection case. The settlement order permanently prohibits West Asset from using false, deceptive or unfair debt collection tactics, including:
- Misrepresenting itself as a law firm or that its collectors are attorneys;
- Misrepresenting that debtors will be arrested or have their property seized if they don’t pay;
- Threatening actions that would be illegal, or actions that the company has no intention of taking;
- Making false statements to collect a debt or obtain information about a consumer;
- Withdrawing funds from consumers’ bank accounts or charging their credit cards without their consent;
- Depositing postdated checks before the date on the check, or threatening to do so;
- Revealing to third parties that a consumer owes a debt;
- Asking a third party for a consumer’s location information more than once without the third party’s consent or a reasonable belief that the person’s earlier response was wrong or incomplete and that the person now has correct location information;
- Calling consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., or at their workplace;
- Communicating with a consumer after receiving written notice that the consumer refuses to pay or wants the collector to stop calling; and
- Using obscene or profane language, or harassing consumers with repeated phone calls.
Click here for information about consumers’ rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice, and to approve the proposed consent order, was 5-0. The DOJ filed the complaint and proposed consent order on behalf of the Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division on March 10, 2011. The consent order was entered by the court on March 15, 2011.
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 defendant has actually violated the law. This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent orders have the force of law when signed by the District Court 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.(FTC File No. 0723006)
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