[Editor’s Note: It is insideARM’s policy to report on news in the ARM industry — both the good and the bad. However, insideARM also feels its important to point out that the actions of the companies listed below are not the actions of legitimate, law-abiding agencies; but, instead, appear to be the actions of criminals using collection agencies as a front to defraud consumers. We see a difference between the two; a difference not often reported in other media outlets.]
The FTC announced on May 21, 2015, through a partnership with the States of New York and Georgia, that they were able to effect a temporary halt of three debt collection operations, alleging violations of federal law by threats and deceptive text messages, emails and calls.
The FTC’s complaints, filed in the United States District Court, Western District of New York, along with the United States District for the Northern District of Georgia, name several companies through which the defendants operated. The named companies include United Global Group LLC., ARM Wyn LLC, Audubon Financial Bureau LLC, Premier Debt Acquistions LLC, PRIZM Debt Solutions LLC, and Samuel Sole and Associates LLC. Additionally, the complaint named Domenico D/Angelo, Anthony Coppola, Charles Glander and Jacob E. Kirbis individually.
The companies were a focus of a law enforcement sweep dubbed “Messaging for Money.”
The Primary Group is alleged to have sent consumers multiple text messages, and, in most cases, failing to disclose the company as a debt collector. Primary also allegedly threatened consumers with false statements such as “I’m a process server with Primary Solutions, appointed to serve you papers for case [eight-digit number]. . .” and “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.”
Per the FTC, Unified Global sent texts designed to entice consumers to call telling them that payments had been declined by their card carrier when no payment arrangements were in place. Calls made to third parties and co-workers of consumers are some of the ways the FTC alleged the defendants violated the FTC Act and The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The complaint also alleged deceptive emails and robocalls.
In the complaint against Premier Debt Acquisitions, the FTC alleged that the defendants impersonated law enforcement officials, falsely threatened consumers with a lawsuit or arrest, and even falsely threatened to charge some consumers with criminal fraud, garnish their wages, or seize property. In texts, Premier made threats to sue the consumers, as well as threats of seizure of their possessions unless they paid. Voicemails left include claims that a “uniformed officer” was on the way to the consumers’ home, and asked them to “secure any large animals or firearms” before the “officer” arrived.
Premier Debt Acquisitions also allegedly made email claims that making a payment would help a consumer’s credit score. However, the FTC believes that Premier had no ability to make good on that claim. The complaint also alleges that Premiere continued collection efforts after a notification of consumer dispute without the required investigation. In a particularly egregious example, the FTC claims that Premiere threatened to send someone to a consumer’s husband’s workplace in order to serve him in front of his co-workers and then “place [him] under arrest” for “obstructing justice” and “defraudment [sic] of a bank.” In other instance, the defendants told the consumer that if she did not pay the debt, she would have to spend 10 to 14 days in jail in order for the debt to be considered paid.
Per Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection: “[Debt collectors] can’t harass or lie to you, whether they send a text, email, or call you.” She also stated that “legitimate debt collectors know the rules.” The FTC seeks to permanently end the unlawful actions of the defendants.