A California debt collector has agreed to pay a $1 million fine to settle charges that it posed as a law firm and illegally used threatening text messages, calls and mailings to collect debts from consumers, the Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday.
The FTC accused two companies controlled by Archie Donovan -- National Attorney Collection Services Inc, and National Attorney Services LLC, of Glendale, Calif. -- of portraying themselves as law firms and threatening to sue consumers or garnish their wages.
Donovan's companies also allegedly called and sent text messages to consumers' family members, friends and colleagues, disclosing their debts in violation of the law.
Below is an example of one of the illegal text messages, from court documents:
[LAST NAME], [FIRST NAME], It is URGENT for you to call National Attorney Service regarding a very sensitive matter. [PHONE NUMBER WITH EXTENSION] Case# [CASE NUMBER]
As part of the settlement with the FTC, the companies must now obtain consumers' consent in order to contact them by text message, stop claiming to be law firms, and no longer threaten to sue, garnish or seize property from consumers.
The settlement also requires the companies to include the following language in any written communications with consumers for the next five years:
Federal and state law prohibits certain methods of debt collection and requires that we treat you fairly. You can stop us from contacting you by writing us a letter that tells us to stop the contact. Sending such a letter does not make the debt go away if you owe it. Once we receive your letter, we may not contact you again, except to let you know that there will not be any more contact or that we intend to take a specific action.
If you have a complaint about the way we are collecting this debt, please write to our CONTACT CENTER, [current physical address], email us at [current email address], or call us toll-free at [current phone number] between 9:00 A.M. Pacific Time and 5:00 P.M. Pacific Time Monday- Friday.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you have a complaint about the way we are collecting your debt, please contact the FTC online at www.ftc.gov; by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP; or by mail at 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580.