New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with a Buffalo-based collection agency that harassed and intimidated consumers, including some who did not owe the debt in question.

Lewis Hastie Receivables Inc. violated state and federal collection laws and must immediately reform its business practices and pay $125,000 in penalties and costs, according to the settlement.

“This company’s business model was to harass consumers by calling them multiple times a day, continuously calling them at work after being told not to, and repeatedly calling even after the alleged debt was disputed.

According to complaints received by Cuomo's office:

* An LHR collector called one resident up to 16 times in one day in an attempt to collect a 10-year old debt that belonged to her husband. When she questioned the debt to LHR, the collector said, “You must not know your husband that well then.” The collector illegally told her she would be arrested, have a lien put on her house, her vehicle confiscated and wages garnished.
* LHR wrongly targeted one man for a debt which he did not owe.
* LHR collectors called another resident 10 times per day in an attempt to collect a debt that was allegedly inflated to more than triple the original amount owed.
* LHR tried to recover a debt from another man that was actually owed by his ex-wife. After explaining this and telling LHR to stop calling him, the collector told the man he would call every day at 8 a.m. until the bill was paid.
* LHR repeatedly called an Iraqi war veteran over a $2,500 cell phone contract from a company he never signed up with. Despite being provided proof that the debt was not his and that he was serving overseas at the time the company claimed he signed the contract, LHR collectors continued to call him.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the New York State debt collection and consumer protection laws prohibit the following conduct: posing as an attorney, threatening lawsuits or other legal action which cannot be taken, saying a consumer committed a crime or will be arrested, and talking with third parties except to get location information. The law further requires collection agencies to send a written notice within five days of initial communication with the consumer explaining how he or she can dispute the debt.

If properly disputed, the collection agency must stop all collection attempts and send verification.

The settlement is part of an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Cuomo into unlawful debt collection practices.

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