“This debt collection operation used illegal and deceptive tactics to prey on consumers, and now they are paying the price for the harm they caused,” said Attorney General James. “Predatory debt collectors make their profit by targeting hardworking consumers and then illegally saddle them deeper into debt. These debt collectors used harassing calls and false threats to coerce consumer to pay, actions that are both illegal and downright shameful. Today’s action should send a strong message to debt collectors nationwide that we will not hesitate to use the full force of the law to hold them accountable if they hurt consumers.”
“It is illegal for debt collectors to orchestrate smear campaigns using social media to extort consumers into paying up,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “Our action with the New York Attorney General bans the ringleaders of this operation from the industry to halt further misconduct.”
This debt collection operation was comprised of interrelated businesses based out of a location in Getzville, New York. Together, they purchased defaulted consumer debt for pennies on the dollar. The debt came from high-interest personal loans, payday loans, credit cards, and other sources. The operation then attempted to collect debts from up to about 293,000 consumers, generating gross revenues of approximately $93 million between 2015 and 2020.
The companies involved in this operation included JPL Recovery Solutions, LLC; Regency One Capital LLC; ROC Asset Solutions LLC, which does business as API Recovery Solutions; Check Security Associates LLC, which does business as Warner Location Services and Orchard Payment Processing Systems; and Keystone Recovery Group. These companies were owned by Christopher Di Re, Scott Croce, and Susan Croce, and were managed by Brian Koziel and Marc Gracie.
Attorney General James and CFPB alleged that the operation used deceptive and harassing methods, violating several state and federal consumer protection laws. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the owners, managers, and companies used the following illegal tactics to collect debt:
- Falsely claimed arrest and imprisonment: On occasion, collectors working for these companies falsely threatened consumers with arrest and imprisonment if they did not make payments. In fact, consumers are not subject to arrest or imprisonment for failure to pay debts.
- Lied about legal action: The companies falsely threatened consumers with legal action, including wage garnishment and seizing property.
- Inflated the debts and misrepresented amounts owed: The defendants deceptively inflated the amount owed to convince people that paying the amount they actually owe represents a substantial discount. To coerce consumers even further, collectors said it was an offer that would only be available for a short period of time.
- Created “smear campaigns”: The collectors contacted consumers’ immediate family members, grandparents, distant family members, in-laws, ex-spouses, employers, work colleagues, landlords, Facebook friends, and other known associates, to pressure people to pay. The collectors did this even after consumers told the collectors to stop contact. Victims described these tactics as “emotional terrorism.”
- Harassed people with repeated phone calls: The collectors repeatedly called people multiple times every day over periods lasting a month or longer. Collectors were, in fact, instructed to let the consumer hang up on each call so they can maintain a pretense in their call logs that they were disconnected, and then call back as soon as the next day. The collectors also used insulting and belittling language and engaged in intimidating behavior when calling.
- Failed to provide legally mandated disclosures: The collectors did not provide to consumers the statutorily-required notices, which detail their rights. When people asked for them, some collectors refused to provide them.
As a result of today’s settlement, this operation is required to pay $2 million to New York and $2 million to CFPB. If they fail to pay the $4 million judgment in a timely manner, they will be required to pay another $1 million.
This case follows a long line of actions taken by Attorney General James to seek justice on behalf of consumers in New York state. Just last year, Attorney General James banned debt collector, Andrew Fanelli and his company Northwood Asset Management Group, from the consumer debt collection industry, for allegedly collecting debts using similar deceptive and illegal tactics. In 2019, Attorney General James announced a $60 million judgment against debt collection kingpin, Douglas MacKinnon, who engaged debtors using similar deceptive and illegal tactics. Attorney General James and CFPB have been taking vigorous steps to enforce this judgment, including brining a civil contempt motion against MacKinnon.