BBB investigates collection businesses daily; consumer inquires up 30%

May 01, 2014

Buffalo, NY - If you experience problems with a collection agency, you’re not alone. Nearly 15% of Americans will encounter a third party debt collector at some point, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York manages hundreds of Business Reviews for collection businesses and will processes thousands of complaints again this year. Consumers checked BBB Business Reviews in 2013 more than 206,000 times for collection businesses, up 30% from last year.

Attorney General Eric Schniederman’s office today shut down Swanson Walker & Associates, a consumer debt collection agency located in Lockport, New York. BBB opened its own investigation into the company in October, 2013 after several consumers nationwide contacted BBB to complain about harassing calls.

“We work to educate consumers about their rights, letting them know collection agencies are not allowed to use harassing or threatening tactics; they may not use obscene or profane language, or threaten consumers in any way,” said Warren Clark, President of BBB serving Upstate New York.

Better Business Bureau received over 70 complaints from consumers about Swanson Walker & Associates from January 1, 2013 to March 30, 2014.

Some consumers who filed complaints with BBB said Swanson Walker & Associates representatives threatened warrants, court action and summonses. One woman said her mother was called about a debt that was already paid off, and the caller said unless she could prove it, there would be a “warrant” out for her. Another man who filed a complaint said a representative called him and threatened him with “legal papers” over an old credit card. He settled the debt with the company but the company attempted to take more money out of his account.

After several phone calls, another consumer filed a complaint with BBB after she was told she owed on an account that was already paid off. She said when she asked for proof of the debt; the representative told her “it was already sent.” The woman checked her credit report and found no record of the debt.

BBBs investigations are often shared with government and legal agencies that can support legal proceedings and assist in the closure of some businesses. FBI, FTC, Attorney Generals and the US Postal Inspectors have all engaged in BBB investigations' work.

Results from BBB investigations work are found on alerts posted within Business Reviews along with detailed accounts of consumer experiences and BBB interactions with a company. Consumers turned to BBB 132 million times for Business Review information last year to make their buying decisions. Over 10,000 investigations into companies were conducted nationwide.

"The investigations work BBB does day in and day out is unparalleled in today's sometimes confusing and cluttered marketplace. BBB is committed to further our effort in this area, providing truthful information and promote consumer trust which is so incredibly important for any business to maintain," added Clark.

There are two types of debt collectors: creditors, to whom you owe money directly, and third party collectors, which collect on behalf of companies.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, creditors and third party collectors may NOT:

  • use false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means
  • harass, oppress, or abuse any person while seeking payment
  • use any false statements or engage in unfair practices.                                            

The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission offer the following information on fair collection practices:

Debt collectors may not:

  • use threats of violence or harm against the person, property, or reputation
  • publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau)
  • use obscene or profane language
  • use phone calls to repeatedly harass you
  • fail to identify themselves on the telephone
  • advertise your debt
  • threaten arrest if you do not pay your debt
  • say they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so
  • indicate that actions such as a lawsuit will be taken against you, which legally may not be taken, or which they do not intend to take
  • collect any amount greater than your debt, unless allowed by law
  • deposit a post-dated check prematurely.
  • use false statements when collecting a debt.

If you believe a debt collector has violated the law, you may sue in state or federal court within one year from the date of the possible violation. If you win, you may recover money for damages you suffered, including court costs and attorney's fees. You should also report problems with debt collectors to the Attorney General's office and the FTC.

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