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Regulators, BBB help track down debt stories

April 5, 2012

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Stephanie Hoops of the Ventura County Star first wrote about a debt collection firm with a bad reputation in 2009. California’s lack of regulators to police the industry meant the business could continue.

Last year, Stephanie came back with a follow-up story: The Federal Trade Commission had shut it down. For her “hard work and tenacity,” Stephanie was among the winners of this year’s Best in Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers .

Stephanie’s story provides some of the astonishing details of alleged tactics used by the debt-collection firm. She writes:

“According to the FTC, the business is accused of doing things such as telling a woman who was unable to pay the balance due on her daughter’s funeral that they ‘were going to dig her up and hang her from a tree if she did not pay the debt,’ and would take her dog and ‘eat him.’

An Iowa woman said she told the company they had the wrong person after repeated phone calls and was told if she didn’t send a check ‘they would fart in my face.’

In another instance, the FTC alleges the defendants contacted a mother with two special needs children and told her she should ‘sell her retarded children.’”

Today’s First Tip: Contact the state attorney general’s office to find out if your state is an open- or closed-border state.

Stephanie says open-border states don’t have regulators, which means debt collection agencies don’t need licenses. She says there are 33 closed-border states that require either licenses or bonds, or sometimes both.

Today’s Second Tip: Get access to the Better Business Bureau complaint system.

The agency generally provides reporters with user names and passwords to access complaints, which can often provide information about private companies, she says. The complaints list contact information for people who file complaints.

If you can stomach more examples of debt-collection practices, check out this Wall Street Journal story about death debts from last year.

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