COLLECTION AGENCIES SCAM SETTLED
More than $100,000 in restitution available for victims
Attorney General Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today announced the settlement of a case brought against two Jacksonville collection agencies and four individuals accused of deceptive business practices.
Alex Ruibal, Debbie Barrows, Aaron Manning and Kimberly Wilson, acting individually and on behalf of Barrows, Manning & Associates and Ditore, Ruibal & Associates, allegedly impersonated law enforcement officers and falsely threatened criminal charges in order to scam debtors into sending payment. Representatives of the companies made these calls knowing that no actions, civil or criminal, would ever be brought against any of the victims.
The settlement is the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Economic Crimes Division of the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), part of the Florida Department of Financial Services.
“All Floridians, regardless
of their financial situation, deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,”
said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services.
“Agencies that use misleading and abusive practices will not be tolerated.”
“It's unfortunate that legislation that would have given regulators additional enforcement tools did not pass this session,” said Don Saxon, Director of OFR. “However, we'll use the full authority of our office to pursue any company that engages in this type of behavior.”
The settlement calls for more than $101,000 in restitution to victims and harmed businesses. Barrows, Manning & Associates will also be required to tape record all future outgoing calls, and the agency will be shut down if more than five complaints are made against it in a 12-month period. The other agency involved in the settlement, Ditore, Ruibal & Associates, was administratively dissolved in August 2003.
Those who may have been victimized by these companies should submit supporting paperwork, such as invoices or cancelled checks, by July 6, 2004, to: Office of Attorney General, Ditore, Ruibal Restitution Request, Economic Crimes Division, The Capitol PL-01, Tallahassee, FL 32301-1050.
Under Florida law, collection agencies that act as third party collectors of debt are required to register with the Office of Financial Regulation. In addition, collectors must follow the guidelines set out in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Under the law, collection agencies are prohibited from several kinds of abusive practices, including:
Consumers with questions or complaints regarding debt collectors can get more information by calling the Department of Financial Services toll-free hotline at 1-800-342-2762. The Federal Trade Commission can also be reached at (202) 326-3222.