A federal court has entered a final order against a Florida debt collection agency, its principals, and its attorney, settling a Federal Trade Commission action that alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) while collecting consumers’ debts.
The FTC’s complaint alleged that the enterprise used misleading dunning letters and abusive telephone calls to falsely threaten that consumers would be sued, their property seized, and their wages garnished if they did not pay the money that the defendants said they owed. The complaint alleged that the collectors often shouted and used profanity and other abusive language to carry out their collections.
The stipulated final order, among other things, permanently bars the defendants from falsely representing the character, amount, or legal status of a consumer’s debt, that their collector is an attorney or represents an attorney, or that if the consumer does not pay, the defendants can or will file a lawsuit against the consumer. It also prohibits them from violating the FDCPA in any way, including by disclosing a consumer’s debts to any third parties, using profanity or other abusive language in collection calls, or by continuing to attempt to collect a debt before providing verification of the debt to consumers who properly request such verification. The settlement also requires the defendants to provide consumers with a toll-free number and mailing address to file complaints, promptly investigate each such complaint, and take steps to cease, resolve, and cure any violations of the court order or the FDCPA.
The defendants are Rawlins & Rivera, Inc. of Florida, Rawlins & Rivera, Inc. of Georgia, Ryan & Reed, Inc. of Florida, Ryan & Reed, Inc. of Georgia, RRI, Inc., the corporations’ officers, Janis Brust, Joe L. Hunt, Sr., Joe L. Hunt, Jr., and a Florida lawyer, Robert W. Bird, whose letterhead was used for many of their collection letters. The settlement contains a monetary judgment of $3.4 million, which represents the total amount the defendants took in through their allegedly improper debt collection activities. The settlement requires the defendants to sell property and transfer the proceeds of the sale to the FTC. The remainder of the $3.4 million will be suspended based upon the defendants’ inability to pay.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the stipulated final order was 5-0. The order was entered by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, on January 14, 2008, along with an order dismissing Shannon Hunt from the complaint.
NOTE: Stipulated final orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.