FTC settlementIn a win for consumers across the country, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has begun mailing 95,000 checks totaling approximately $4 million to consumers who lost money to extortion, following a settlement with the collection agency responsible. The FTC settled charges in 2014 against Asset Capital and Management Group, a debt collection operation that went by a variety of names and illegally extracted payments from consumers for credit card debt it had purchased from creditors. Consumers owed money in the settlement will be receiving checks from Analytics Consulting LLC, the FTC’s refund administrator for this issue. Checks should be deposited or cashed within 60 days of the mailing date, and the FTC reminded consumers in its press release that they shouldn’t be expected to pay money or provide information before checks can be cashed. Although this settlement probably doesn’t affect most Americans, it’s important to understand how the debt collection agency’s actions were illegal so you can be on the lookout for this kind of behavior in the future.

How did the agency break the law?

According to the settlement, Asset Capital and Management Group violated both the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. These exist to protect consumers from illegal behavior on behalf of debt collection companies. Violations perpetrated in this case consisted of false threats — including lawsuits, seizure of property, arrest, disclosure of debts to employers and family members and wage garnishment. The FTC also accused the debt collection group of failing to inform consumers they were attempting to collect a debt or notify them of their right to dispute the debt and obtain verification.

Anytime you receive a phone call from a debt collector, it’s important to know your rights so you can tell if they are being violated. You can familiarize yourself with the various statutes passed by the FTC, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, on its website. The most important thing to know is that you have a right to be informed that the caller is attempting to collect a debt, and you should also be able to verify the debt as well as dispute it. If a caller should resort to threatening you, even if you believe the debt they are trying to collect is legitimate, you should get the caller’s information, hang up and report the call to the FTC. You can also contact the creditor to ensure the debt collector is legitimate.

How can I file a complaint to the FTC?

Filing a complaint to the FTC is a simple process that can be done online via its Complain Assistant website or over the phone by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. You can file your complaint in either English or Spanish. The FTC enters every complaint it receives into its secure online Consumer Sentinal database, which is available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and abroad. Companies like Asset Capital and Management Group are caught and prosecuted thanks to average people who report suspicious behavior to the FTC and their state attorney general’s office, so don’t hesitate to file a complaint if something seems off.

Want to learn more about protecting yourself as a consumer? Follow our identity theft protection blog.