A U.S. district court has halted a collection operation that allegedly extorted payments from consumers by using threats of lawsuits and calculated campaigns to embarrass consumers by unlawfully communicating with family members, friends and coworkers. 

The court order stops the illegal conduct, freezes the operation’s assets, and appoints a temporary receiver to take over the defendants’ business while the FTC moves forward with the case.

The complaint names as defendants: Thai Han; Jim Tran Phelps; Keith Hua; James Novella; One FC LLC, also doing business as Western Performance Group and WPG; Credit MP LLC, also doing business as AFGA, CMP, AFG & Associates, AF Group, Allied Financial Group and Allied Guarantee Financial; Western Capital Group Inc., also doing business as ERA, LMR, WCG, and WC Group; SJ Capitol LLC, also doing business as SCG; Green Fidelity Allegiance Inc., also doing business as WRA; Asset and Capital Management Group; and Crown Funding Company LLC.

The FTC alleged that the defendants were part of an elaborate collection scheme operating from locations in Orange and Riverside counties in California, and that they used various business names including Western Performance Group, as well as fictitious names, which they changed frequently to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

The FTC alleged that the defendants called consumers and their employers, colleagues and family members posing as process servers or law office employees, and claimed they were seeking to deliver legal papers that purportedly related to a lawsuit. 

In some cases, the defendants threatened that consumers would be arrested if they did not respond to the calls. But the collectors were not process servers or law office employees, and the defendants did not file lawsuits against the consumers. 

The FTC charged that the defendants’ false and misleading claims violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In addition, the FTC alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by:

    •    improperly contacting third parties about consumers’ debts;
    •    failing to disclose the name of the company they represented, or the fact that they were attempting to collect a debt, during telephone calls to consumers; and
    •    failing to notify consumers of their right to dispute and obtain verification of their debts.

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