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Collection Agencies Scam Settled


CONTACT: Tami Torres, DFS - (850) 413-2842

JoAnn Carrin, OAG - (850) 245-0150

TALLAHASSEE-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.

"These people were using cruel and forceful tactics to take advantage of citizens already down on their luck," said Crist. "By pretending to be law enforcement authorities, these businesses played on their victims worst fears. We will continue to fight and seek restitution
for Floridians who have been scammed."

"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 give 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:

§ Threatening violence or harm against you.
§ Misrepresenting the amount of your debt.
§ Using profane language.
§ Phoning without identifying themselves.
§ Using false or misleading statements, including implying that they are attorneys, government representatives, or employees of a credit bureau.
§ Using harassing tactics, including saying that you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt or threatening to garnish your wages or sell your property without having taken legal action to do so.

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.