The Minnesota Commerce Department announced Wednesday that collection agency Tucker, Albin and Associates Inc. is facing a $500,000 fine for allegedly harassing and threatening small businesses in the state.
The Richardson, Texas-based collection agency allegedly violated state and federal laws after investigators found a pattern of "deliberate, repeated misconduct in the companys debt collection activities," Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement.
The fine is the largest penalty imposed on a debt collection agency by the state's Commerce Department.
According to Rothman, the agency's debt collectors were trained to use caller ID to pretend to be family members or neighbors. Tucker Albins employee training manual listed instructions for collectors to spoof fake numbers to use with fake names, the Commerce Department found.
The Commerce Department states that more than 100 Minnesota businesses were victimized - including farmers, restaurants, construction companies and body shops.
If the debtor was a farmer, Tucker Albin would use the number of a local farmer's market. If the debtor was a volunteer fire firefighter, it would mimic the number of the local city hall. Then the company would make outrageous threats to freeze the target business assets, revoke its license or report its owners to the IRS.
Tucker Albin officials were not immediately available for comment.
The agency also allegedly claimed to be private investigators and threatened to hire people to stand in front of businesses with signs saying they didnt pay their debts, according to the Commerce Department.
Mark Dooley, a claims manager for a trucking company allegedly harrassed by the collection firm, told City Pages, a weekly Minneapolis-St.Paul publication, that the harassment was "more baffling than anything. It was unprofessional and didn't seem to have any direction whatsoever. Luckily, we'd been in business so long with the partners who were contacted, they didn't give the letters much heat. It could have gone very differently."