A leading debt collection company has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2.8 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its aggressive collection techniques violated federal law. As part of its efforts to protect consumers affected by the struggling economy, the FTC alleged that West Asset Management, Inc. violated the FTC Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
According to the FTC’s complaint, thousands of consumer complaints have been filed against West Asset Management Inc., which employs 1,500 debt collectors in 13 states and one offshore location. West Asset Management debt collectors allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by calling consumers multiple times each day, often regarding accounts that did not belong to them, and sometimes using rude and abusive language. The FTC further charged that West Asset Management also illegally disclosed the existence of consumers’ debts to third parties and ignored consumers’ written demands that West Asset Management stop calling them.
The company also allegedly withdrew funds from consumers’ bank accounts or charged their credit cards without consent and falsely claimed that consumers would be sued, arrested, or have their property seized for nonpayment of their debt. In addition, the FTC alleged that West Asset Management falsely claimed that partial payments would be accepted as full settlement on accounts and that negative information would stay on consumers’ credit reports until debts were paid. According to the complaint, West Asset Management has collected on more than 24 million accounts on behalf of clients in the healthcare, telecommunications, consumer credit, and government service industries.
The settlement imposes a $2.8 million civil penalty, which is the largest civil penalty obtained by the FTC in a debt collection case. The settlement order permanently prohibits West Asset from using false, deceptive or unfair debt collection tactics, including: