Illegal Debt Collection Practices
Monday, August 31, 2015
It has come to our attention that self-professed “collection agencies” are contacting individuals in the Tuscaloosa County area and attempting to collect on alleged bad checks supposedly passed to Winn Dixie grocery stores in the late 90s to early 2000s. In some cases these collectors are contacting relatives and ex-spouses in the same effort.
According to complaints we’ve received, these individuals are threatening people with arrest and vague “further legal action,” if the debt is not paid. The amounts quoted to clear the alleged debt have ranged from 1000-2000% more than the face value of the check. The calls have originated from various states including, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. However, the parent firm appears to be located in Atlanta.
In at least one case reported to our office, the collector e-mailed a copy of the alleged bad check to the individual contacted and he indicated that it appeared to be an actual, legitimate check from his former account. It appears likely that the checks in question were originally turned over to a collection agency by the merchant and those accounts were then subsequently sold to an unknown number of other collection agencies. Individuals have also reported that the collectors are also quoting their full or partial Social Security Numbers during the call.
When skepticism or an unwillingness to pay for such an old debt is exhibited, it’s been reported that the collectors/callers become belligerent and threaten to “ruin your credit” and/or “have you arrested tomorrow.” Such threats are a violation of Federal Law (see Fair Debt Collection Practices Act @ FTC.gov).
In Alabama, the statute-of-limitations for filing a criminal complaint regarding a worthless check is one year from the date of the check. Therefore, there is no method by which these collectors can “have you arrested” or “turn this over to the Sheriff.” It is also unlikely that any civil court would accept a lawsuit for checks from 13+ years ago. With that being said, at least one individual who has contacted our office reported an inquiry on her credit report. Given the threat to “ruin credit,” we are recommending that anyone receiving such a call subsequently check his/her credit report to determine if these collectors are reporting the alleged bad debt. If so, you should contact the credit bureaus as provided in their terms to inquire about your options for disputing the reported debt.
If you receive one of these threatening calls, we are recommending that you do the following:
Block the number from your phone if possible.
Advise the caller to cease contacting you.
DO NOT give these callers your bank account or credit card information.
Place your phone number(s) on the Federal Trade Commission’s: FTC DO NOT CALL REGISTRY
Submit a Consumer Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: Submit a Consumer Complaint
Check your credit report for any questionable information and proceed according to credit bureau policies.
For additional information, the Better Business Bureau maintains a highly informative webpage related to this issue: Better Business Bureau