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Mike Papantonio: Three debt collection agencies are under fire for posing as delivery couriers to collect overdue debt. The lawsuit against them says the agencies violated the US Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which bars collectors from using misleading practices against debtors. Joining me to talk about this is Mollye Barrows, legal journalist for The Trial Lawyer magazine. You know, just when you think it’s gotten … From what I understand, these debt collectors would disguise themselves in various uniforms and … Tell us what happened.
Mollye Barrows: As couriers and it was easier for them to do in our age of technology with voicemails and messages, and so that’s essentially what they were doing is calling people that these debt collection companies were trying to get ahold of. They would leave this message in a very authoritative tone and they gave samples in the lawsuit, but basically in a nutshell they said, “This is so and so. I have very important papers to give you related to a lawsuit that you’re facing from the IRS. Please call this number for more information.” They would then call that number. Another person would answer the phone, another representative of Account Recovery Solutions, that would reiterate the same message that they just heard.
Mike Papantonio: That’s the company?
Mollye Barrows: That’s the company that’s named in this lawsuit along with two other debt collection companies. This is the one that’s being accused of this particular scheme. The other two are liable by proxy, if you will, because they hired Account Recovery Solutions to collect for them. This is the main one.
Mike Papantonio: Something’s not clear to me. Okay, so they disguised themselves as legal couriers. We got … They’ve got legal documents. We have something very important. You may need to know it. Maybe it’s an estate issue, who knows what they said. I still don’t get … They show up at the front door, what happens then? How does that collect a debt?
Mollye Barrows: Well, it’s more of the message. They get this message. They call the number. Another representative answers, repeats the same message that they heard. Yes, we have this information, these legal papers that you need to see, here’s yet another number for you to call. It is only when they call that third number that the person on the other end identifies themselves as being with the Account Recovery Solutions, a debt collection company, and you are hereby notified that we are trying to contact you in order to collect this debt and read them a small Miranda, if you will, which is required under Federal law, but what is not covered under Federal law is the deceptive practices. That’s what this lawsuit’s alleging is that they were violation with those deceptive tactics.
Mike Papantonio: Under that … There’s actually room for prosecution here. I mean, this is beyond sanctions. These people can be prosecuted for doing this.
Mollye Barrows: That’s essentially what the lawsuit is asking for, trial by jury for those reasons because of a variety of things, not just the deceptive tactic in order to get direct contact with this individual, which is what they’re after, but also because they were intimidating. They said, “We will be coming by your house at your address … ” They repeat your address. ” … to give you these papers because you are facing this legal action. ” You’re right. It’s essentially threatening and extorting to a certain extent to get them to behave.
Mike Papantonio: Extortion comes to my mind. I think if I was … Prosecution of these people should not be a problem. I can tell you as an ex-prosecutor, you can make out a case real easily here. Is this limited to a small group … We just have a small group of people doing this?
Mollye Barrows: Well, the lawsuit doesn’t cover whether or not this was a company sanctioned policy, but it would seem to imply that the company was well aware that their employees were conducting this kind of practice, so it is clearly defined in the 1977 Congressional Law that was passed that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is aimed to protect citizens from deceptive practices like this and harassing practices because it continues to be a huge issue. You could just do one Google search about debt collectors and it is page after page after page of deceptive practices or threatening practices. This exists.
Mike Papantonio: People should do that. People should do that by the way.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: Mollye Barrows, thanks for joining me.
Mollye Barrows: Thank you so much Pap, we’ll continue to follow this and let you know if there is a prosecution.