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FTC reaches settlement with debt collector

Mar 19, 2011 Kyle Duncan

Debt collection agencies have come under greater scrutiny for their practices as state and federal agencies attempt to increase consumer safeguards. One debt collector that was found to have operated outside the law reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday, following an investigation that found West Asset Management had gone awry from federal statutes, The Wall Street Journal reports. The company paid out $2.8 million for what the FTC found to be "aggressive collection techniques" that broke federal laws, including calling consumers multiple times a day, directly withdrawing funds from bank accounts and making false claims about a lawsuit or having property repossessed. The agency also stated that West Asset Management was guilty of illegally providing the consumer's outstanding debts to multiple third parties and "ignored consumers' written demands." Furthermore, the FTC stated that West Asset Management made inappropriate claims that partial payments "would be accepted as full settlement on accounts" and that negative credit information would remain on consumers' credit reports until debts were completely reimbursed. West Asset Management is responsible for more than 24 million accounts in numerous verticals, including healthcare, telecommunications and consumer credit. As stipulations of the settlement, West Asset Management can no long identity itself as a law firm or collectors as attorneys, threaten to repossess property or enact legal action, make false claims, pass along consumer information to third parties or withdraw funds from bank accounts without consumer consent. The FTC's ruling comes at a time when federal agencies and courts are passing greater protections for consumers. The use of social media technology in the industry has recently become a hot button issue. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have made skip tracing practices much easier for debt collectors, but lawmakers are increasingly worried about how it is used. That issue was recently highlighted by a case in Florida, where Circuit Court Judge Joseph W. Baird ruled that a Jacksonville-based debt collection service had to halt its use of Facebook, The Associated Press reports. In that case, documents found that Mark One, LLC had followed a consumer by monitoring the Facebook pages of her friends. The case alleges that the company contacted the consumer through her page as well as the pages of her friends and family members.