Regulators Stepping Up Probes of Debt Collectors' Practices

June 22, 2013
Los Angeles Times 

State and federal regulators are pressing debt collectors over their use of faulty records in litigation against credit card borrowers. Authorities say that, in some cases, paperwork was so flawed that borrowers were not even aware of lawsuits against them until their wages were garnished or assets seized after they failed to appear in court. At the state level, the California attorney general's office is leading a broad investigation of the debt collection industry, focusing on firms that buy delinquent credit-card accounts at a discount, then sue borrowers for the payments. That probe already has spawned a civil lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase, in which California Attorney General Kamala Harris accused JPMorgan and Chase Bank of running a "massive debt collection mill" that led to more than 100,000 lawsuits statewide based on shoddy documents, including some signed by low-level employees posing as bank officers. In one case, Oakland resident Tommie Sexton fell behind on payments for his Chase credit cards only to be sued by debt buyer Midland Funding for $7,000 in unpaid bills, including interest. Midland filed copies of Sexton's credit card statements and an affidavit that Chase had sold the account to Midland; but Sexton argued that the documents were not enough to prove Midland owned the debt, especially because the affidavit was created after he was sued. Sexton and Midland eventually settled. Such shoddy documents are "ubiquitous" in the debt collection industry, said Peter Holland, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland law school. AGs in more than a dozen other states have responded by banding together to look into similar incidences; and at least three federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are scrutinizing debt collectors.
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