Houston, TX: A class-action suit alleging aggressive and illegal debt collection practices against Encore Capital Group and its agents lifts the lid on a growing problem for consumers struggling to pay bills. "A lot of people call lawyers for help not because they want to get rich in a lawsuit, but because they don't know where else to turn," says consumer attorney Aaron Radbil from the firm of Weisberg & Meyers. "They have got debt collectors who are harassing them, debt collectors who won't leave them alone. These people have real problems and they deserve to be treated fairly."
One of those people who came to Weisberg & Meyers looking for help was Joe Olinick. He had received dozens of voice mail calls from an unknown person telling him they had an important message for him and would he please call.
According to the statement of claim, the computerized voice mail calls were coming from a debt collection law firm, Fulton, Friedman & Gullace, acting in conjunction with Midland Credit Management and Encore Capital Group.
"After looking at the file, we found that this was not a problem limited to him," says Radbil. "This is something that occurred on a class-wide basis."
The class-action suit alleges the robo voice mail calls made to plaintiff Olinick, and to thousands of other people in Texas, violated both the federal debt collection act and a similar state debt collection act, both designed to protect consumers from over-zealous practices.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires debt collectors to introduce themselves with their full name, the name of the company they represent and disclose the reason for the call.
"Unfortunately for the defendants in this case, the phone calls, or the voice mails don't comply with the language of the FDCPA," says Radbil. "In this case, the debt collector call did not make the required disclosures."
"If a voice mail is left on an answering machine that says, 'hello I am a debt collector and I want to collect a debt,' odds are that nobody is going to call back," says Radbil. "If the person says, 'hello, this is John, I have an important message please call me back,' that is different. Half the battle is just getting them on the phone.
Debt collection is a big, big business. Especially with the economy, the financial conditions the way they are debt collection is a big business," says Radbil.
And Encore Capital Group is among the biggest.
According to the statement of claim, since 2009, Encore has invested $1.3 billion to acquire 27 million consumer debt accounts with a face value of approximately $43 million. It outsources the collection of those debts to Midland Credit Management and debt collection law firms including Fulton, Friedman & Gullace.
"The companies are buying more debt, because more and more debt exists and they are becoming more aggressive because it is becoming harder to collect because people don't have the money and it has become a competitive business," says Radbil.
Legal action and lawsuits alleging aggressive collection and violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act have grown exponentially over the last decades, although fines for violating the act have remained relatively low, amounting to less than a thousand dollars per violation.
The class action seeks damages of $500,000 or one percent of the total value of the defendant's asset value. Radbil says the plaintiffs want to be compensated and send a message to debt collectors that don't play by the rules. "Effectively, we are requesting relief in the form of money, and that should have a positive effect in the future," says Radbil.
Aaron Radbil is a senior associate attorney with Weisberg & Meyers. Radbil has successfully tried numerous cases to verdict and argued significant consumer-interest cases in both state and federal courts. A large portion of his practice focuses on national class-action, consumer-driven litigation.