"I owe what?" That's often the response from consumers who get calls from collectors telling them to pay up -- or else. Victims of such scams will be glad to know that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is putting one of these operators out of business.
A California man who worked with bogus debt collectors in India has agreed to settle FTC charges that he and his companies deceived and threatened consumers into paying debts that were not owed or that the defendants were not authorized to collect.
As part of the settlement, the defendants will turn over nearly all of their assets -- amounting to an estimated $170,000 -- which will be used for consumer refunds.
The case against Villa Park, California-based Varang K. Thaker, American Credit Crunchers, LLC, and Ebeeze, LLC, is part of the FTC's continuing crackdown on scams that target consumers in financial distress. The settlement order bans the defendants from debt collection, and prohibits them from misrepresenting:
The order includes a $5.4 million judgment, which is equivalent to the full amount of injury. The monetary judgment will be partially suspended due to the defendants' inability to pay, but if it is determined that the financial information they gave the FTC was untruthful, the remaining amount of the judgment will become due.
Payday loan collectors
The FTC's February 2012 complaint alleged that the callers who worked with the defendants would contact consumers who previously had received or inquired about online payday loans. Often pretending to be law enforcement or other government authorities, the callers would falsely threaten to immediately arrest and jail consumers if they did not agree to make a payment on a supposedly delinquent payday loan.
The FTC alleged that information submitted by consumers who had applied online for these loans found its way into the hands of the defendants, who used it to convince consumers that they owed them money.
Saying they represented the local police department, the "Federal Department of CrimeÂ and Prevention," or simply a "federal investigator," the callers allegedly typically demanded more than $300, and sometimes as much as $2,000. At other times, the callers claimed to be filing a large lawsuit against the consumer, or threatened to have the consumer fired from his or her job, according to the FTC. But the consumers did not owe money to defendants -- either the payday loan debts did not exist or the defendants had no authority to collect them because they were owed to someone else, the FTC alleged.
Consumers received millions of collection calls from India, and in a two-year period theÂ operation took in more than $5 million from victims, according to the FTC. During that time, consumers filed more than 4,000 complaints with the FTC and state attorneys general about fraudulent debt collection calls.
The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. According to the complaint, they: