Top Debt Collection Agency Fined $3.2 Million for Harassing Tactics

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Here's a nice reversal: The world's biggest debt collector now owes a hefty bill of its own, after agreeing to pay more than $3 million to settle various charges of bad debt collection practices.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint charging that Expert Global Solutions and its subsidiaries had engaged in various violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the FTC Act. Those practices included repeated, harassing phone calls; repeated calls to people insisting that they weren't the intended target of the collection effort; and leaving voice mails that could violate the the consumer's confidentiality by revealing that they owe a debt.

In settling the charges, Expert Global Solutions agreed to pay $3.2 million and change its practices in various ways. That judgment is small potatoes compared to the company's $1.2 billion in annual revenue, but having the government on its case should put a stop to some of its more egregious practices. It's agreed, for instance, to conduct an investigation when someone disputes the validity of a debt, and will stop calling alleged debtors at work if they request it.

While the practices outlined in the complaint are a clear violation of the law, they're far from the worst debt collection horror stories we've heard -- some less scrupulous collectors have even gone so far as to threaten to kill pets and dig up dead relatives. (If you're being pursued by a debt collector, you should know what your rights are.)

Still, the size of the judgment and the fact that it involves the world's largest debt collector is not insignificant, and could serve as a very big warning shot for an industry that needs to clean up its act.

As for Expert Global Solutions, the order makes it clear that it's got 10 days to pay the judgment -- and it better make that deadline if it wants to avoid getting a taste of its own medicine.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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