Abusive Debt Collection Practices Targeted
Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has filed a lawsuit against a debt collection company alleged to have engaged in illegal and abusive practices to coerce payment on time-barred or unverified debts.
JBC & Associates, P.C. and its successor companies, JBC Legal Group, P.C. and Boyajian Law Offices, P.C., and their operator, Jack H. Boyajian of New Jersey are accused of violations of both federal and state laws regarding debt collection practices.
"This case sends a message to debt collection companies that illegal and abusive dunning practices will not be tolerated," Spitzer said.
Spitzer's investigation revealed that, for at least three years, JBC has been attempting to collect tens of thousands of dishonored checks allegedly issued by consumers to retail merchants, including Ames and Bradlees, which went out of business in 2002 and 2000 respectively.
Since January 2003, over 100 consumers have filed complaints against JBC and Boyajian claiming that the debt collectors engaged in such illegal practices as:
- Repeatedly calling consumers to demand payment on debts that JBC refuses to verify as legitimate;
- Falsely representing the amount of the alleged debt and attempting to collect more than is allowed under state law. Specifically, numerous consumers complained that JBC demanded amounts such as "statutory fees" that, at times, doubled the alleged debt, together with threats to seek "appropriate relief before a court"
- Falsely threatening to file lawsuits when, in fact, the company commences lawsuits in far fewer than one percent of its case files and, for many debts, any such lawsuit is time-barred. New York State law provides a six-year statute of limitations for actions brought for the collection of dishonored checks;
- Falsely representing or implying that the dunning letters have been reviewed by and are from an attorney admitted to practice in New York State. Spitzer's investigation revealed that no attorney, let alone one admitted to practice in this state, is meaningfully involved in each case each time a letter is sent to collect an alleged debt;
- Falsely accusing debtors of criminal activity and making threats such as "putting a warrant out for arrest" or asking the consumer if he/she "looks good in stripes" and
- Harassing consumers in other ways such as calling late at night, calling them at work, using abusive language, and contacting neighbors, relatives and employers about the debtor.
In filing the lawsuit, Spitzer's office is seeking a court order directing JBC and Boyajian to pay full restitution to all New York consumers of all amounts collected in excess of their legitimate debt (plus a $20 dishonored check charge permitted by law), civil penalties and court costs. In addition, Spitzer's office is seeking an accounting for each dishonored check involving a New York resident as to which debt collectors have taken collection measures.
For information on laws related to debt collection activities, consumers should visit the Federal Trade Commission's web site at http://www.ftc.gov/ and the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ny.gov/bureaus/consumer_frauds/tips.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Herbert Israel and Special Assistant Attorney General Stephen Mindell of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.
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