Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Wednesday announced a settlement with a publicly traded debt buyer that the AG said was prompted by the ARM firm’s practice of “bringing improper debt collection actions against hundreds of New York consumers” specifically on debts that were time-barred under state law.

Under the settlement, Asta Funding, Inc. (NASDAQ: ASFI) will move to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments totaling more than $1.7 million. Asta will also reform its debt collection practices and pay civil penalties and costs in the amount of $100,000.

“Filing lawsuits on debts that have surpassed the statute of limitations is an abuse of the court system and hurts New Yorkers,” said Schneiderman. “My office will continue to hold debt collectors and lenders accountable, so that New Yorkers can keep more of their hard-earned money where it belongs – in their pockets.”

Schneiderman said that the settlement was the fourth in the past year with large debt buyers, all involving collection lawsuits filed on debts that were beyond the statute of limitations. But the announcement noted that Asta’s actions may not have involved a violation of New York’s statute of limitations.

Under New York law, for an action to be timely filed it must be commenced not only within New York’s statute of limitations, but also within the statute of limitations of the state where the cause of action accrued, if other than New York. In debt collection actions, a cause of action accrues where the original creditor resides. For example, while New York’s statute of limitations to collect on a debt is generally six years, if the original creditor was located in Delaware, which has a three-year statute of limitations, the shorter statute of limitations would govern the action.

The AG’s  investigation found that Asta brought debt collection actions that were untimely under the statutes of limitations where the causes of action accrued. Because most consumers fail to respond when they are sued by a debt collector, Asta obtained default judgments in its favor based on these time-barred claims.

In addition to seeking to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments and paying $100,000 in civil penalties and costs, Asta has agreed to several important reforms of its current practices in New York. These include:

  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the statute of limitations and that the company will not sue to collect on the debt.
  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the date for reporting the debt provided for by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and that because of the age of the debt the company will not report the debt to any credit reporting agency.
  • Alleging certain information relevant to the statute of limitations in any debt collection complaint, such as the name of the original creditor, and the date of the consumer’s last payment on the debt.

In addition to filing time-barred debt collection actions, from 2006 through 2012, contrary to New York law, Asta permitted its employees to sign affidavits outside the presence of a notary and then deliver them to an employee who would notarize the affidavits in bulk. The settlement requires Asta to ensure that affidavits are notarized in a manner consistent with the requirements of New York law, including that the affidavit or other sworn statement is signed in the presence of a licensed notary.

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