Thursday, December 17, 2009
7 News Investigations: Collecting Trouble
The economy has a lot of people struggling to pay their bills. Many are getting behind and having to deal with debt collection agencies, but some say some of those companies are collecting trouble by going to far, and one local man is even suing the company that contacted him.
WSVN -- Eddie Crespo is a dog lover.
Eddie Crespo: "I mainly rescue the abused and abandoned dogs."
For the last 11 years he has been trying to save as many as he can.
Eddie Crespo: "I put up the ones that nobody else wants and I take care of them."
He does it all with his own money and like many of us, he has some money problems these days.
Eddie Crespo: "I received the standard collection agency letter in the mail and I looked at it said Valentine & Kebartas inc., they were asking for money of course."
Next, he got a phone call.
Eddie Crespo: "And when I picked up the receiver I noticed it said law office on it with an 800 number."
Eddie's lawsuit claims the number on his caller ID was the same phone number as the collection company that sent him the letter, so he started investigating Valentine and Kebartas Incorporated, which is located in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Eddie Crespo: "I contacted the Massachusetts bar and neither Mrs. Valentine nor Mr. Kebartas were attorneys in Massachusetts."
He also checked the Florida bar
Eddie Crespo: " I checked their names again and they weren't attorneys in Florida either."
So Eddie filed a complaint with the state and the Florida bar. In response, the state issued a notice of warning to the company for using misleading communication, and the Florida bar says it's investigating.
Thomas Pahl: "Debt collectors misrepresenting themselves as attorneys is a practice that has been around for a long time."
Complaints like Eddies are on the rise nationwide.
Thomas Pahl: "In 2008, we received more than 100,000 complaints about the conduct of debt collectors."
Both state and federal officials say the best thing consumers can do is file those complaints.
Thomas Pahl: "We can go to federal court and get an order from a judge, ordering the debt collector to stop its unlawful behavior."
Consumers have another option, they can file a lawsuit on their own, which is what Eddie decided to do.
Eddie Crespo: "To expose the things that just need to be exposed."
Craig Stevens: "Eddie is not alone. We found about 40 other lawsuits filed against Valentine and Kebartas in federal court and federal regulators say private lawsuits are making collection companies take notice."
Thomas Pahl: "Law enforcement actions and private actions both stop the unlawful conduct and both send a message that it will not be tolerated."
Valentine and Kebartas has denied the allegations in Eddie's lawsuit when we contacted them. They wouldn't go on camera, but sent this statement which in part says "We have never requested our name appear on caller identification devices as anything other than a name that would correctly identify our firm."
They believe the phrase law office, which showed up on Eddies caller ID would have been an unintentional error on the part of the telephone service provider.
As for Eddie, he knows he owes money, but says he wants to make sure he's paying a legitimate debt to a legitimate company.
Eddie Crespo: "I'm responsible for some of the debts of course naturally, but again, I want to know which ones. I want to see proof that it was me that charged whatever it was that was being charged. I don't think that's asking for too much."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Florida Attorney General
Federal Trade Commission