FTC Puts A Stop To Three Debt Collection Operations Using Threatening Text Messages, Robocalls

For the most part, we can’t say many glowing things about the debt collection industry that has, in the past, been known for using a litany of abusive and deceptive practices to pry money from consumers. Three such companies will no longer be bothering people after the Federal Trade Commission temporarily shut down the operations for engaging in nearly all of the hallmarks of shady collectors: threatening lawsuits or arrest, impersonating law enforcement and government officials and illegally contacting supposed debtors.

The FTC today announced that at its request, federal courts in New York and Georgia temporarily halted the operations of Unified Global Group, Premier Debt Acquisitions and Primary Group.

As with many other debt collection operations that have faced similar action, the FTC contends that the three companies engaged in a series of unlawful actions including using text messages, emails, and phone calls to falsely threaten to arrest or sue consumers, as well as contacting friends, family members, and employers about owed debts, withholding information needed to confirm or dispute debts, and failing to identify themselves as debt collectors, as required by law.

In some cases the FTC alleges that the collection abuses targeted individuals over a period of several years, despite evidence that a debt was not owed or previously paid in full.

The FTC’s action against the companies is part of its ongoing “Messaging for Money” enforcement sweep.

According to the FTC complaint [PDF] against Unified Global Group, the operation utilized text messages to trick people into calling them back.

Many of the text messages included false statement such as “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD ****-****-****-5463 . . . CALL 866.256.2117 IMMEDIATELY.” The FTC alleges that the messages, which failed to identify the sender as a debt collector, were sent to consumers despite the fact they had never arranged to make payments to the company.

In addition to the intrusive text messages, the company also used similarly threatening emails and robocalls as methods of contact.

As for Premier Debt Acquisitions, the FTC alleges in its complaint [PDF] that the company impersonated state or law enforcement officials, and threatened consumers with lawsuits or arrests if they didn’t pay up. In some cases, the collectors attempted to intimidate people with claims they would face with criminal fraud charges, wage garnishments, or loss of property.

Text messages sent by the company claimed that the alleged debtor would be sued or have their possessions seized unless they paid. Voicemails left by the collectors included false claims that they would send “a uniformed officer to home or place of employment to enforce” collections.

In other attempts to collect supposed debts, the FTC says Premier Debt Acquisitions sent emails that claimed making a payment would help their credit report.

When individuals challenged the debt, the operation continued to push for payments and failed to investigate the disputes.

In a specific instance, the collection attempts continued despite written evidence that the debt was a result of identity theft and a prior debt collector had marked it fully paid. Others tell the FTC that the defendants tried to collect a payment even after they had received it, and hounded them for two years about someone else’s debt.

The final complaint [PDF] against Primary Group alleges that the operation sent consumers a series of text messages, most failing to disclose that the company was a debt collector.

Messages included threats and false statements such as “I’m a process server with Primary Solutions, appointed to serve you papers for case [eight-digit number].” or “Please have proper ID and a witness present who can provide a signature. If there’s no reply I’ll have to bring the document to your employer.”

People tell the FTC that in numerous instances, they were unable to find any legal case against them in the jurisdictions where they reside or work after researching the case numbers that were included in text messages from collectors.

While the court order temporarily shuts down the operations, the FTC is seeking a permanent end to the company’s enterprise.

FTC Halts Three Debt Collection Operations That Allegedly Threatened and Deceived Consumers via Illegal Text Messages [Federal Trade Commission]