Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that his office has filed a lawsuit against a Buffalo, N.Y. collection agency with accusations including the impersonation of Ohio government agencies and threats of arrest. The firm allegedly spoofed caller IDs to make it appear the calls were coming from real government office numbers.

DeWine’s lawsuit accuses Nationwide Recovery Group LLC and its owner, Michael P. McCarthy, of violating the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

According to the AG’s lawsuit, collectors from Nationwide impersonated various government and law enforcement agencies, including the clerk of courts’ offices in several Ohio counties, in addition to county sheriff deputies and a court investigator. A court clerk from one county started the investigation when she received a report from a consumer after a threatening call purporting to come from that clerk’s office.

An investigation by DeWine’s office found that Nationwide Recovery Group spoofed consumers’ caller IDs to falsely display the real phone numbers of government agencies, including the clerk of courts’ number. It also threatened consumers with arrest or legal action if they failed to pay a debt immediately, using phrases like “theft of merchandise” or “theft of services.”

While operating in Ohio, the business also allegedly used the fictitious names Gallagher Mediation and the Law Firm of John McGuire to mislead consumers. The lawsuit alleges that McCarthy himself used names such as John McGuire or Jason Gallagher on calls with consumers.

“By law, debt collectors cannot threaten or mislead consumers,” DeWine said. “In this case, the business not only threatened consumers with legal action and arrest, it also pretended to be legitimate Ohio government agencies and spoofed caller IDs to further mislead consumers. Ohioans deserve better than that, and we are taking action to hold this debt collector accountable.”

Filed in the Montgomery County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court, the DeWine’s lawsuit charges the business and its owner with threatening to take legal action that could not legally be taken, failing to disclose a caller’s identity, blocking or spoofing telephone numbers to mislead consumers, and making false and misleading representations. It seeks permanent injunctive relief as well as civil penalties and restitution for consumers.

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