Debt collectors accused of threatening, harassing small MN firms fined $500K

Author:
Updated:
Original:

A debt collection agency accused of training its staff to threaten small businesses in Minnesota has been fined a record $500,000.

Employees of Texas-based Tucker, Albin and Associates, Inc. pretended to be family members when calling business owners, claimed to be private investigators, and threatened to hire people to stand in front of businesses with signs saying they "didn't pay their debts," according to Minnesota officials.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced the company has been hit with a $500,000 penalty – the largest ever imposed on a debt collector in the state – for its "deliberate, repeated misconduct."

The agency targeted more than 100 businesses in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, including in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Nisswa, Osakis, Shakopee and St. Cloud, with farmers, restaurants, construction companies, body shops, a doctor and a veterinarian among the victims.

"Our Commerce Department investigation uncovered a pattern of deliberate, repeated misconduct in the company’s debt collection activities," Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said. "As a matter of company policy, its debt collectors were trained and directed to deceive, harass and threaten small business owners to coerce payments from them."

Collectors 'spoofed' family phone numbers

The department launched its investigation after a complaint by a small business in Minneapolis, and found the company to be in violation of several state and federal laws in attempts to recover debts.

According to the department:

This includes a violation of the federal Truth in Caller ID Act, by "spoofing" the phone numbers of victims' family members or neighbors so that numbers would show up on caller ID instead of the company's phone number.

It trained collectors to pretend to be private investigators who threatened to take pictures of the business, run checks on vehicles in the parking lot and interview employees as they left. Employees also made threats they couldn't legally make, such as freezing a company's assets, having their insurance revoked and reporting them to the IRS.

The company will pay $130,000 of the fine up-front, with a further $10,000 paid in each of the next 12 months. The remaining $250,000 will be stayed for two years but will be levied if the company breaks a cease-and-desist order.

It has also been ordered to revise its practices and change its training procedures.

Company an 'industry leader'

Tucker, Albin & Associates describes itself on its website as an "industry leader" that "prides itself on demonstrating tact and professionalism while aggressively recovering debt."

It offers commercial and international debt recovery, as well as services for matters relating to fraud recovery, international arbitration and "complex international fraud."

Several complaints made against the company listed on the Better Business Bureau website accuse the company of misrepresentation, threats, and harassment.

Next Up

Gary Kubiak

Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak announces retirement

Kubiak wraps up a career that has spanned nearly four decades.

alphaMPD

Minneapolis police seeks public help finding missing woman

A 63-year-old woman has been missing since Tuesday

coronavirus testing

Don't want to talk to a contact tracer? MN debuts online option after positive test

The department says the survey will allow its staff to keep track of more cases at a faster pace

Family Dollar

Money Gal Coaching: 12 things you are wasting your money on

Kelly Blodgett started Money Gal Coaching after paying down nearly $50K in debt in 18 months.

police lights

Three teens charged in Minneapolis robberies

The incidents took place on Saturday in Minneapolis.

covid-19, coronavirus, ppe

Here is Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, January 21

It's the first time in exactly four months that Minnesota has had fewer than 100 COVID patients in intensive care.

icy roads, bad roads

Girl, 16, killed in crash with semi on icy Minnesota road

The crash happened in Dodge County around 8 a.m. Wednesday.

police lights

Road rage incident sees driver punch out man's window, punch him in face

The incident happened in Waite Park Wednesday morning.

Screen Shot 2019-10-11 at 7.01.24 AM

Minneapolis will recover $100K in costs connected to 2019 Trump rally

The Target Center operator said it'll pay the costs over three years.

Jacob Frey

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey confirms run for reelection

He has faced criticism over the city's response to George Floyd's death.

Related

Minnesota cracks down on debt collector

The West Central Tribune reports the Commerce Department is ordering a debt collection company to revamp its hiring process after an investigation found the firm was employing felons. NCO Financial Systems operates 49 debt agencies nationwide.

Debt collectors working for education officials paid millions in fines for threats, abuse

Two debt collection firms, including one based in Minneapolis, paid a total of over $4 million in fines after a federal agency accused them of breaking the law and harassing consumers. Now those same collectors are working for the federal Education Department.

Debt collectors pay Minnesota $100K for student loan harassment

Two companies made "abusive and harassing phone calls" to debtors.

Minn. GOP in debt for $500K

State Party Chairman Tony Sutton says the financial burden is due to Republican's calculated gamble in the 2010 elections. The state GOP spent heavily on campaigning and won the state Legislature for the first time in a generation.