AG: Arizona debt collectors raise $1.6 million using threats and intimidation | 3 On your side
PHOENIX (3 on your side) — The phone call was unexpected and threatening.
“My mother-in-law, who is an elderly lady, called my husband and told him the police were looking for him for an unpaid debt,” Nakyah Wilson told 3 On Your Side. “She was in a panic.
Wilson and her husband too. They called back and the person on the other end demanded $8,000.
“I don’t know who he was, but I explained to him that we didn’t have that kind of money,” he recalls.
But with the threat of arrest, the couple agreed to a payment plan.
“It’s scary,” Wilson said. “I have children and I didn’t want them coming in the middle of the night knocking on our door to arrest me and my husband.”
It wasn’t just fear. There was also confusion. Wilson knew that she and her husband had an old debt amounting to a few hundred dollars. She called the company she supposedly owed.
“Turns out it had already been settled,” Wilson said.
She also called the court. There was no trace of an arrest warrant, as claimed by the appellant.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Wilson is one of thousands contacted by two Arizona debt collectors who used illegal scare tactics to collect more than $1.6 million. dollars that they had no authority. According to a consumer fraud lawsuit filed against Mark Anthony Smith and Deborah Ann Butler, the duo used spoofing software to make nearly 66,000 phone calls that appeared to be from government agencies.
Smith and Butler operated debt collection firms CMS Financial Group, John Lee Group & Associates and TD Financial Solutions Group AZ, according to Brnovich. 3 On Your Side could not be reached for comment.
“It’s really unconscionable,” Brnovich said. “Essentially what they were doing was calling people claiming to be law enforcement or other justice officials saying they were allowed to collect debts, and in some cases , we don’t even know if people actually had the debt.”
The lawsuit is part of a nationwide campaign to crack down on illegal debt collection practices called “Operation Corrupt Collector.” According to the Federal Trade Commission, the agency has received more than 85,000 reports so far this year regarding debt collection. Nearly half involve debt that isn’t legitimate or threatening tactics, the FTC said.
There are legitimate debt collectors out there, but they have to follow the rules. They cannot make false statements and they cannot repeatedly contact a consumer’s family or friends.
“At the end of the day, if you owe someone money, we want you to pay it, but I don’t want anyone using fear and intimidation to try to collect a debt that may or may not be due”, Brnovich mentioned.
Wilson did not lose any money, and she says she is relieved to have filed a complaint about the incident with the state.
“You have to stop,” she said. “It’s really crazy how people take advantage of people, especially at a time like this.”
Brnovich is seeking restitution and up to $10,000 per violation.
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