Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a Buffalo, N.Y., collection agency accused of impersonating regional government agencies and sheriffs deputies attempting to collect debts.
The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, accuses Nationwide Recovery Group LLC and owner, Michael P. McCarthy, of violating the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The business impersonated government and law enforcement agencies, including Ohio clerk of courts offices in Greene, Montgomery and Cuyahoga counties, along with county sheriff deputies and a court investigator, the lawsuit alleges.
The case began after Greene County Clerk of Courts Terri Mazur notified the Ohio Attorney General's Office about a report from a resident who received a threatening call purportedly from the clerk of court's office.
DeWine's office said that an investigation found that Nationwide Recovery Group spoofed (or altered) consumers' caller IDs to falsely display the real phone numbers of government agencies, including the clerk of courts' number. It also allegedly threatened consumers with arrest or legal action if they failed to pay a debt immediately.
While operating in Ohio, the business also allegedly used the fictitious names Gallagher Mediation and the Law Firm of John McGuire.
By law, debt collectors cannot threaten or mislead consumers, DeWine said. In this case, the business not only threatened consumers with legal action and arrest, it also pretended to be legitimate Ohio government agencies and spoofed caller IDs to further mislead consumers. Ohioans deserve better than that, and we are taking action to hold this debt collector accountable.
DeWine's office is seeking an end to the violations, restitution for consumers and civil penalties.
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot harass consumers or fail to identify themselves. Consumers also have the right to request written verification of a debt, and collectors must send a letter listing how much the consumer owes, the name of the creditor owed and how long the consumer has to dispute the debt.