Cuomo to Prosecute Harassing Debt Collection Group

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New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is fighting to protect consumers from harassing phone calls from debt collection agencies.

In 2006, Michelle Minton received a call from a debt collector stating that she would be arrested if she didn’t pay her $4400 debt that day. The caller went on to threaten her further, saying “ Your kids will see you arrested. If… your husband [who was away at the time of the phone call] can’t make it home, child protective services will take your kids.” The problem was, Michelle Minton wasn’t in debt.

The harassing phone call, however, was enough to make Minton give the collector her bank account information. She lost $900. “It was so embarrassing,” she later recalled. “I was convinced that … someone was going to be at my house that afternoon if I hung up the phone with him.”

Dorothy Gilbert also received a phone call in 2006 demanding that she settle a $187 debt. Gilbert did owe that money to a bank after she withdrew too much money from her account, but by the time she received the call, she had already paid it. The caller left a harassing message, calling her “ghetto” and an “uneducated reject.”

Cuomo is targeting a group of 13 collection companies run by the Benning-Smith Group in Buffalo, citing the above examples as well as reports of sexual harassment and callers that impersonate law enforcement officials and lawyers. All told, the Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau have received over 850 consumer complaints against the group.

Because of the poor economy, debt collectors are using more invasive tactics to make money, including calling those who don’t have any debt. “Some companies, for example, they have a debt from a John Brown, let’s say. They go to the telephone directory and they call all the John Browns with the same tactics, hoping that one of the John Browns will actually pay the bill,” Cuomo stated.

 

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