After allegedly misleading consumers into paying unnecessary fees and falsely threatening consumers with lawsuits, defendants in a debt collection operation have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges.
The FTC alleged in its complaint that the defendants – a debt buyer and a debt collection law firm, both based in Mississippi – violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by deceptively charging consumers a fee for payments authorized by telephone. According to the FTC, the defendants led consumers to believe that the fee was unavoidable when, in fact, those who paid by mail or online did not incur the fee. The FTC also alleged that the companies violated the laws by falsely threatening to sue consumers as a means of getting them to pay. A debt collector is prohibited by law from using false, deceptive, or misleading representations or tactics when collecting a debt.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants will pay $799,958 in restitution for consumers. The defendants also are barred from making any misrepresentations when collecting a debt, including false claims that consumers must pay an extra fee when making payments on a debt or that they will be sued for not paying a debt.
According to the complaint, debt buyer Security Credit Services, LLC, and Jacob Law Group, PLLC have worked together since 2006 to collect debts nationwide. Security Credit buys consumer debt accounts, and contracts with Jacob Law to collect on them. The complaint alleges that Jacob Law called and pressured consumers to immediately make payments on their debts by authorizing electronic checks or credit or debit card payments over the phone. Jacob Law allegedly told consumers they were required to pay an additional fee of $18.95 for this service, but routinely failed to mention that they could avoid the fee by mailing the payment or paying online. Since 2008, the defendants have collected at least $799,958 in fees from consumers.
The FTC also alleged that Jacob Law Group implied that it would file lawsuits to collect the debts even when it did not intend to do so.
For consumer information about dealing with debt collectors, see Debt Collection.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and approving the proposed consent decree was 4-0. The FTC filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, on March 13, 2013, and has submitted the proposed consent decree to the court for approval.
NOTE: The Commission files 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 defendants have actually violated the law. The consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Consent decrees have the force of law when approved and 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 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.