Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA) are two of the country’s largest debt buyers, a market that serves a crucial role in the proper functioning of consumer credit markets. Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken legal action against Encore and PRA for their illegal debt collection activities. In their process, Encore & PRA demanded payments and filed lawsuits on debts without reviewing the proper documentation to ensure they were collecting the accurate amount from the correct consumer.
In their legal actions, the CFPB is ordering Encore to refund up to $42 million to consumers, cease collection efforts on $125 million in debts, and pay a penalty of $10 million. Meanwhile, they are ordering PRA to refund $19 million to consumers, stop its collection of $3 million in debts, and pay a penalty of $8 million. In addition to these actions, the CFPB is hoping their orders will contribute towards reforming and improving the procedures taken in the debt collection field.
Typically, debt buyers purchase delinquent accounts for only a fraction of what the overall debt total would be; however, they still have the option to collect the full amount claimed by the original lender. In the investigation, Encore and PRA were found to have purchased over $200 billion in defaulted consumer debts on credit cards, phone bills, and other accounts. The issue here is that the debts bought were inaccurate or could not legally be enforced; something both debt buyers knew or should have known.
In the investigation, it was found that both companies knowingly and intentionally entered into these agreements after being notified of debts being faulty, seeing the contractual disclaimers, or being aware of consumer disputes. Both companies went on to make these purchases without obtaining important and accurate documentation, or even checking to ensure the debts were accurate and enforceable. Encore and PRA even bought debts that intentionally imposed significant limitations on access to account-level documents that would have helped verify the debts.
Even after the initial purchase, Encore and PRA used unlawful tactics and made misrepresentations in order to pressure consumers to pay their debts. PRA’s tactics included falsely informing consumers their accounts were reviewed by an attorney, falsely stating that there would be a pending litigation, and coaxing consumers into agreeing to receive auto-dialed calls to their cell phones. Meanwhile, Encore notified some consumers that debts were legally enforceable, when they were in fact too old to legally enforce. Both companies also collected debts by entering into lawsuits against consumers across different states, knowing they would win the majority by default if consumers were unable to defend themselves.
Due to the unlawful actions taken by both companies, in addition to them being the largest debt buyers in the country, Encore and PRA will have to lead the reform in practices taken in the debt buying field. These changes would include taking proper measurements to ensure debt being bought is accurate and enforceable, proper research and investigation is taken, and that any lawsuits filed must contain specific documents and information that is both accessible and shows the debt is accurate.
These actions taken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are in hopes of ensuring there are legitimate and fair practices being taken in the debt buying marketplace, so as to keep consumers from being misled by companies like Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates. Does this mean there will be no illegal activity on the part of collection agencies moving forward? Very unlikely…
Feel free to reach out to us if you have any credit questions or reports that need to be reviewed.
Please call us with credit questions or specific
credit report issues.