BUFFALO, N.Y. — Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with a Buffalo-based debt collection company that repeatedly harassed and intimidated consumers, including some who did not even owe the debt in question.
According to Cuomo’s investigation, Lewis Hastie Receivables (LHR), Inc., located on Main Street in Hamburg, violated state and federal debt collection laws and, under the agreement, must immediately reform its business practices and pay $125,000 in penalties and costs. The action is the latest in Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing probe of illegal practices in the debt collection industry.
“This company’s business model was to harass consumers by calling them multiple times a day, continuously calling them at work after being told not to, and repeatedly calling even after the alleged debt was disputed,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “It is unacceptable for debt collection companies to use illegal tactics for their own profit and we will continue to put a stop to the practice.”
According to complaints received by Attorney General Cuomo’s Office:
- An LHR collector called an Oswego resident up to 16 times in one day in an attempt to collect a 10-year old debt that belonged to her husband. When she questioned the debt to LHR, the collector said, “You must not know your husband that well then.” The collector illegally told her she would be arrested, have a lien put on her house, her vehicle confiscated and wages garnished.
- LHR wrongly targeted a Lackawanna man for a debt which he did not owe.
- LHR collectors called a Georgia resident 10 times per day in an attempt to collect a debt that was allegedly inflated to more than triple the original amount owed.
- LHR tried to recover a debt from a Mississippi man that was actually owed by his ex-wife. After explaining this and telling LHR to stop calling him, the collector told the man he would call every day at 8 a.m. until the bill was paid.
- LHR repeatedly called a California-based Iraq war veteran over a $2,500 cell phone contract from a company he never signed up with. Despite being provided proof that the debt was not his and that he was serving overseas at the time the company claimed he signed the contract, LHR collectors continued to call him.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the New York State debt collection and consumer protection laws prohibit the following conduct: posing as an attorney, threatening lawsuits or other legal action which cannot be taken, saying a consumer committed a crime or will be arrested, and talking with third parties except to get location information. The law further requires collection agencies to send a written notice within five days of initial communication with the consumer explaining how he or she can dispute the debt. If properly disputed, the collection agency must stop all collection attempts and send verification.
The settlement is part of an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Cuomo into unlawful debt collection practices. Since commencing the statewide initiative in May 2009, Cuomo has shut down more than a dozen debt collection and affiliated process serving companies and required others to reform their deceptive practices. His office has also garnered criminal convictions against 12 individual collectors who engaged in especially egregious and threatening actions against consumers. The investigation is ongoing and lawsuits against several other collection companies are pending.
Attorney General Cuomo urges consumers who wish to learn more to visit www.NYDebtHelp.com. The site explains consumer rights, allows victims of debt collection and debt settlement companies quick access to the Attorney General’s Office to file complaints, and outlines the stages of the investigation.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Bruce under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge of the Rochester Regional Office Debra Martin and Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs J. David Sampson.