FTC Launches “Operation Collection Protection”


The FTC is going after debt collectors in a big way:

The cases announced today bring to 115 the total number of actions taken so far this year by the more than 70 law enforcement partners in the Operation Collection Protection initiative.

The FTC is mainly targeting debt collectors trying to collect debts the consumers don’t actually owe.

Debt collectors targeted by the FTC and various state law-enforcement agencies include BAM Financial, Delaware Solutions, K.I.P., and National Check Registry.

Expert Global Solutions Fined $3.2 Million for Harassing Collection Tactics

Introducing his brief post on the settlement, BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza says “Intimidation, abuse, deception: everyone knows what debt collectors will do to get paid.” That’s sad, but true.

Perhaps EGS, at least, will clean up its act now that it has been assessed the largest-ever civil penalty against a debt collector by the FTC.

Identity Theft Resources from the FTC

If your identity is stolen, most of the damage done is financial. Since most of us have financial accounts and information spread all over, it can take a long time to sort out all the fraudulent activity. It’s like picking staples out of a huge carpet. There is not much help available to victims of identity theft, either. You are mostly on your own when it comes to cleaning up the mess.

The FTC just made it a little bit easier, though, with a set of resources to help victims of identity theft figure out what to do. It’s Taking Charge: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen PDF walks you through the process of discovering the identity theft, doing immediate damage control, placing a fraud alert on your account, freezing your credit, and so on.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/57280140/)

“Free Trials” Usually Aren’t

Minnesota consumer lawyer Randall Ryder points out that a “free trial” is like a fishing lure; it looks like a nice treat, but it is just a hook designed to haul you in. Don’t bite.

Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. When you sign up for a free trial, you are paying with the information you provide, and giving the company permission to continue marketing to you. At a minimum, you pay for the “free” stuff with your permission and attention. If you don’t read the fine print carefully, you may wind up paying from your wallet, too.

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“Deceased Collection” May Get New Regulations


FTC proposes new guidelines for collecting debt from dead people“, reads the Washington Post’s headline. As it turns out, debts don’t die with the debtor, and debt collectors don’t let a little thing like a funeral slow them down. They keep calling, implying that relatives ought to discharge the deceased’s “moral obligation” to pay the debt, even if that means paying it out of their own pockets.

The proposed FTC rules would make it clear a debt collector may not talk about moral obligations or try to get relatives to pay the debt themselves. But the proposed rules may also weaken the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s prohibition against discussing a debt with third parties.

You can read the proposed rules or submit a comment to the FTC before December 1, 2010.

Gift Card Dangers


Gift cards are an easy gift, which makes them extremely popular, especially at the last minute. But gift cards frequently go unused, and may come with hefty penalties. Before you give a gift card, consider the risks.

For starters, $8.2 billion in gift cards go unredeemed every year. They expire, get lost, or just never get used, for one reason or another. New rules mean that cards may not expire for at least five years, but they can still be lost or forgotten.

Watch out for inactivity fees on some cards. Under federal rules, inactivity fees may not be charged for a year, but they can be charged monthly after that. In other words, the gift card may end up worth less—or worthless—the longer it goes unused.

Stores going out of business can also be a problem, because gift card holders become unsecured—i.e., SOL—creditors.

If, with all that in mind, you still want to buy a gift card, check out the Federal Trade Commissions guide to buying, giving, and using gift cards.

Debt Collector Allied Interstate Pays $1.75 Million Fine


In an effort to resolve federal allegations, debt collector Allied Interstate has agreed to pay a $1.75 million dollar fine. Allied Interstate was accused of collecting on debts that people did not actually owe, contacting third parties, and threatening legal action that it did not intend to take.

Unsurprisingly, this type of behavior is illegal.

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Debt Settlement Companies Made (Slightly) Better by the FTC


Many consumers who end up drowning in debt turn to debt settlement companies for help. The problem is, many debt settlement companies don’t really help; they just take the money and run. I guess they figure poor consumers are unlikely to complaint. But they do, and the FTC has heard. It recently issued new rules designed to reign in debt settlement abuses.

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Complaining Will Get You Nowhere


Nearly every news article on debt collection harassment advises readers to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and/or the state Attorney General. While this advice is not harmful, it is useless. None of these organizations are likely to do anything to help.

Instead, when dealing with a debt collector, take careful notes, record if you can, and call a consumer rights lawyer as soon as possible.

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FTC Responds to Senator Al Franken


Background: Minnesota debt collectors sue like crazy and manipulate the courts to land debtors in jail. The Star-Tribune’s Chris Serres tells it like it is. Senator Al Franken gets pissed and tells the FTC to get with the program.

A month later, the FTC responded to Senator Franken’s letter. In sum, the FTC’s letter reads thus: “We’re doing some stuff. But yeah, what’s going on in Minnesota doesn’t sound right. And hey, it wouldn’t hurt to add some protections to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”

It’s kind of a weak response. I think the FTC is just hoping this goes away so it doesn’t have to do anything. It didn’t bother making concrete recommendations, for example. And the FTC’s statement that “The Demand for Disclosure contains a clear and prominent statement . . . .” Is just wishful thinking. Legal forms rarely contain clear statements of anything, and the collection forms are particularly obtuse.

Here’s hoping that Senator Franken doesn’t let this die.