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NY AG Goes After a Group of Buffalo Debt Collectors For Using Verbal Abuse and Sexual Harassment to Collect

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his office has filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down a Buffalo-based debt collection operation consisting of 13 debt collection companies run by Buffalo residents Omar Smith, Narvell Benning and Keith Marshall (collectively, the “Benning-Smith Group”). Today’s announcement is the latest action in Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing investigation of unlawful debt collection practices.

According to the more than 850 consumer complaints filed with the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau, the Benning-Smith Group’s employees violated state and federal law by routinely posing as law enforcement officials and threatening to arrest or to physically harm consumers unless they made arrangements to pay the company immediately. Additionally, the Benning-Smith Group made abuse and humiliation a trademark of their collection practices by verbally abusing consumers and, in some instances, sexually harassing them. To date, the Attorney General’s investigation has identified more than a thousand instances in which the Benning-Smith Group breached state and federal statutes. Cuomo’s lawsuit, filed today in Buffalo Supreme Court, seeks to shut down all of the Benning-Smith Group’s operations in the Western New York.

“This company made lies, threats and abuse their calling cards in their efforts to manipulate and take advantage of consumers already facing tough economic times,” said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. “They did everything they could to demean and humiliate their targets, stooping so low as to sexually harass and verbally abuse individuals nationwide. My Office will continue to protect consumers by making it clear that companies like this one will not be permitted to operate in the State of New York.”

According to the lawsuit filed by the Attorney Generals Office, Omar Smith, Narvell Benning and Keith Marshall ran at least 13 debt collection companies that operated out of multiple locations and under various assumed names in Western New York. The Benning-Smith Group operated under several names, including: Abrams, Burke & Associates; Benning and Smith Acquisitions, Inc.; Brady and Caruso, LLC; DebtPayments.com; DebtPayments.com, LLC; Fredericks, Goldstein & Zoe; Graham, Noble & Associates Bookkeeping; Graham, Noble & Associates LLC; Graham, Beagle & Associates LLC; Kingman, Cole and Associates, LCC; Marshall and Ziolkowski Enterprise, LLC; Marshall Ziolkowski Acquisitions, LLC; Lansky, Goldstein, Zoe; OLS Payment Services; and University Debt Collection.

Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation revealed that collectors regularly demanded payment for non-existent debts or substantially inflated the amount owed on an actual debt. Using their false law enforcement identities, collectors coerced and cajoled terrified consumers into agreeing to make payments. Frightened at the prospect of arrest and humiliation, consumers authorized withdrawals from their checking accounts, sent Western Union moneygrams and/or money orders out of fear.

In one instance, a Benning-Smith collector kept repeating the name of a consumer’s daughter, describing various sexual things he would do to her unless the debt was paid. Another collector told a female consumer that if both she and her husband would engage in sexual acts with him, he would pay their debt himself. Collectors routinely called consumers “drunks,” “scumbags,” “deadbeats,” and, in one instance, “a low-life piece of trash.”

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the New York State debt collection and consumer protection laws prohibit the following conduct: posing as an attorney, threatening lawsuits or other legal action which cannot be taken, saying a consumer committed a crime or will be arrested and talking with third parties except to get location information. These statutes also bar the use of deception and harassment in collection practices. The law further requires collection agencies to send a written notice within five days of initial communication with the consumer explaining how he or she can dispute the debt. If properly disputed, the collection agency must stop all collection attempts and send verification.

Today’s action is part of a larger investigation by Attorney General Cuomo into unlawful debt collection practices. In June, Cuomo obtained a court order shutting down the fraudulent activities of another Buffalo-based collection racket and initiated criminal charges against the owner of that operation. His Office previously shut down two other collectors for threatening and intimidating consumers into paying debts that they did not owe. Additionally the Office of the Attorney General remains engaged in litigation with two debt settlement companies for fraudulent business practices and false advertising by selling misleading debt settlement plans that very rarely deliver the promised benefits to consumers dealing with debt.

NY AG Goes After a Group of Buffalo Debt Collectors For Using Verbal Abuse and Sexual Harassment to Collect
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About Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
  • Steve Rhode

    I would start with the NY Attorney General office.

  • Ajt22

    We just found out tonite that we were victims too. We have no idea what to do about it or where to go with our information.

  • Ajt22

    We just found out tonite that we were victims too. We have no idea what to do about it or where to go with our information.

    • http://GetOutOfDebt.org Steve Rhode

      I would start with the NY Attorney General office.

  • Mark

    These idiots called and left a message on my brother and sister in law’s answering maching, about a debt I do believe I owe. THey claimed i was going to be taken to court In a county in which i do not live, in another state. a lawsuit has to be filed in the same county in which a person lives. My attorney has informed me that it is illegal to call someone about another person’s debt. Even if it is a family member, with whom one does not live. They also called my nephew’s sons Mother, Whom i have met only twice about my debt. Other illegal tactics have been done . i am filing a lawsuit though my attorney who specializes in consumer debt collection violations. I do not understand third party debt collection agencies who go into business, then are stupid enough to violate the law themselves, causing them to either get shut down, or get sued,losing the very money they are trying to collect. The mentality of most of the people who wrok for or who run these types of third party debt collection services, is not very intelligent at all. for the people at Graham noble and Associates to sexually harrass and verbally abuse people, wgch is against the law, shows they are just plain stupid.Good for the New York Attorney General for putting these dimwits in their place.

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