It’s good to know consumer complaints don’t go unheard. An Atlanta-area debt collector has been ordered to shut down operations after the Georgia Consumer Protection Office received numerous consumer complaints.
Zenith Financial Group allegedly threatened consumers with criminal charges along with physical violence if they did not pay up. Both of these actions are violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Among the many practices prohibited by the FDCPA, debt collectors are not allowed to threaten arrest, use obscene language, or pretend they represent law enforcement.
Earnest Earvin IV, owner of Zenith Financial Group, agreed to get out of the collections business for five years, and he will be subject to a $460,000 penalty if he violates the agreement.
As part of the agreement, Earvin and Zenith will no longer attempt to collect on more than $3.1 million in alleged debts, in addition to paying $15,000 in penalties.
Zenith was specifically accused of violating the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act by threatening consumers with arrest, imprisonment, physical violence and concealing that its collectors were contacting consumers to collect a debt and any information they obtained could be used for that purpose.
Some Debts were Illegitimate
What’s so heinous about Zenith Financial Group is that many consumers claim the debts are not legitimate. This is not uncommon with rogue debt collectors. Attempting to collect older delinquent accounts is a common practice with some debt collectors. Unfortunately attempting to collect debts that have already been paid, threatening consumers, calling at all hours and pursuing debts on which the statute of limitations have expired are common complaints consumers have about the debt collection industry.
Don’t be haunted by Zombie Debt
“Zombie Debt” remains a huge problem in the debt collection industry. It’s debt that has come back from the dead to haunt you. Zombie debt is purchased by debt collectors in hopes to scare consumers into paying debt that is otherwise uncollectible due to the age of the debt or other issues. The older and less collectible the debt, the cheaper it is to buy. That means debt collectors can make money by collecting even a small portion of the debt.
Quick Reference to Consumer Debt Collector Rights
Consumers should use everything in their arsenal to combat rouge debt collectors. When dealing with debt collectors, it’s crucial for consumers to know their rights. Knowing what debt collectors cannot do will put an end to any illegal collection tactics and keep consumers from being harassed and threatened by debt collectors who refuse to follow the law.
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
- misrepresent the amount you owe;
- indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or
- indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
- you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
- they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
- legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or
- use a false company name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge;
- deposit a post-dated check early;
- take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or
- contact you by postcard.
Source: FTC Consumer Information