Debt collection company pays record-setting civil penalty

Incessant phone calls to consumers, often about accounts that weren't theirs.

Repeated autocalls to wrong numbers.

Illegal disclosures to other people that a consumer owes money.

Those are just some of the allegations in the FTC's recent settlement with West Asset Management, a debt collection company that employs more than 1,500 collectors in 13 states and one offshore location.  According to the FTC's lawsuit filed in federal court in Atlanta, the company violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) through those illegal tactics — and more.  The FTC also charged that West Asset Management ignored consumers' written demands that the company stop calling them and in certain cases, withdrew funds from consumers' bank accounts or charged their credit cards without their consent.

No lightweight in the business, 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 company's tactics led to thousands of complaints from consumers.

In addition to a $2.8 million civil penalty — the largest ever in an FTC debt collection case — the settlement with West Asset Management bans a host of prohibited acts, including calling consumers before 8 in the morning, after 9 at night, or at their workplace; harassing them with repeated phone calls; and illegally communicating to third parties that a consumer owes a debt.

If you're in the debt collection industry or have clients who are, you know that this settlement is the latest in a series of FTC enforcement actions to protect the rights of consumers in financial distress.  The hefty civil penalty and far-reaching injunction serve as a reminder that now’s the time for a FDCPA compliance check-up.

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