A phony debt collection operation set up in a Chicago suburb was shut down after the Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General's Office obtained a court order following hundreds of complaints from consumers around the country said they were threatened over debts they didn't owe, the FTC said on Friday.
The case is one of a growing number of so-called phantom-debt collection schemes authorities have gone after.
"The defendants have threatened and intimidated their way into stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people all across the country," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.
The scheme dates to at least 2010, the FTC said, and involved a variety of business names. Those targeted were people who had either applied for or received a payday loan or other short-term loan.
While the companies had no right to collect any actual debt and often went after consumers who didn't owe money, they tried to extract payment by threatening imprisonment, lawsuits, wage garnishment and revocation of drivers' licenses, the FTC said. They even called victims at their workplaces and reportedly screamed threats and obscenities at them to try to frighten them into paying, the agency said.
Defendants in the case include K.I.P., LLC; Charles Dickey, Chantelle Dickey (aka Chantelle Rudd and Chantelle Williams), Ezell Williams and Associates; Ezell Williams, LLC; Excel Receivables; Second Chance Financial Credit; Second Chance Financial; Payday Loan Recovery Group; Payday Loan Recovery Group; Payday Loan Recovery; International Recovery Services; International Recovery Services; and D&R Recovery.
Charges against the defendants include violations of federal debt collection statutes, not providing a notice with the amount of debt, who the debt is owed to, how to dispute the debt and other rights someone presented with a debt is supposed to be afforded.
In addition, defendants were accused of not having a debt collection license and violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Illinois Collection Agency Act.