The Federal Trade Commission fined Expert Global Solutions, the world's largest debt collection agency, $3.2 million Tuesday for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The FTC's complaint says that Expert Global Solutions called consumers multiple times each day, morning and night, even when consumers asked them to stop. The company also called consumers' workplaces, even though their employers prohibited such calls, and left messages about the debt with third parties.
"The key practice we saw was calling too much," says Christopher Koegel of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
MORE: Read the complaint
The company also continued collection efforts, even when the consumer denied owing it. Under the order, the company must either cease collection efforts when a consumer contests the claim, or suspend efforts until it has completed a reasonable investigation into the consumer's claim.
The company must also:
Stop falsely claiming that they will not call a number to collect a debt
Not harass or abuse a person while trying to collect a debt
Not contact third parties about a person's debt
Not call a person's workplace if it's prohibited by employer
Cease communications if a person has requested no further contact
Record at least 75% of all their debt collection calls beginning one year after the date of the order, and retain the recordings for 90 days after they are made.
The complaint against Expert Global Solutions, based in Plano, Texas, should be a warning to other debt collection agencies against using aggressive tactics. "We receive more complaints about debt collection than any other industry," says Koegel. "The whole industry should sit up and take notice that the FTC is taking this very seriously."
Expert Global Solutions offered this statement: "We are pleased to have resolved this matter with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to have this legacy issue, dating back to 2008, behind us. We cooperated fully with the FTC's 2010 investigation and have already implemented systems and procedures to help address their areas of concern. We believe that the quality of our consumer interaction is best-in-class in our industry today, and have worked hard over the past several years to help ensure compliance and fair treatment of consumers on all of our points of contact. As a leader in the industry, we look forward to continuing to work with the regulatory agencies on important matters of compliance and quality, and value the role these agencies play in the collections industry."
Since 2010, the FTC has pursued about 15 debt-collection cases, collecting $52.5 million in judgments, Koegel says.
If you're curious about your rights when dealing with debt collectors, check out www.consumer.ftc.gov.
By John Waggoner, USA TODAY