At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, federal courts in New York and Georgia have temporarily halted three debt collection operations that allegedly violated federal law by threatening and deceiving consumers via text messages, emails, and phone calls. The FTC seeks to permanently end the unlawful practices.
According to the FTC, the defendants used text messages, emails, and phone calls to falsely threaten to arrest or sue consumers. They also unlawfully contacted friends, family members, and employers, withheld information consumers needed to confirm or dispute debts, and did not identify themselves as debt collectors, as required by law.
The defendants in the law enforcement sweep called “Messaging for Money” are known as Unified Global Group, Premier Debt Acquisitions, and The Primary Group.
The FTC’s complaint against Unified Global Group names several companies through which the defendants operated. According to the FTC, the companies at times sent texts to trick consumers into calling them back. The texts included false statements such as, “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD ****-****-****-5463 . . . CALL 866.256.2117 IMMEDIATELY,” even though consumers had never arranged to make payments to the defendants. The texts failed to identify the senders as debt collectors. The defendants also used deceptive emails and robocalls, and unlawfully contacted consumers’ friends, families, and co-workers about the supposed debts.
In its complaint against Premier Debt Acquisitions, the FTC alleged that the defendants impersonated state or law enforcement officials, falsely threatened consumers with a lawsuit or arrest, and even falsely threatened to charge some consumers with criminal fraud, garnish their wages, or seize their property. In texts, they claimed they would sue the consumers and threatened to seize their possessions unless they paid. In voicemails, the defendants also falsely claimed a “uniformed officer” was on the way to the consumers’ home, and asked them to “secure any large animals or firearms” before the “officer” arrived.
Premier Debt Acquisitions also sent deceptive emails claiming that making a payment would help a consumer’s credit report, but the defendants had no ability to make good on that claim. They also kept trying to collect after consumers challenged the debt or its amount, without investigating the dispute. In one instance, they persisted despite written evidence that the debt was a result of identity theft and a prior debt collector had marked it fully paid. In other instances, the defendants tried to collect a payment even after they had received it, and hounded one person for two years about someone else’s debt.
The FTC’s complaint against the Primary Group alleged that the defendants sent consumers a series of text messages, typically not disclosing that the company is a debt collector. The defendants threatened consumers with false statements such as “I’m a process server with Primary Solutions, appointed to serve you papers for case [eight-digit number]. . .” and “Please have proper ID and a witness present who can provide a signature. If there’s no reply I’ll have to bring the document to your employer.”
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