A New Jersey lawyer and his Pennsylvania-based collection agencies must cancel nearly $8 million in alleged debt they tried to collect from more than 1,900 West Virginia residents, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office announced Tuesday.

Laurence Hecker and APM Companies also will pay $45,000 in refunds and to support consumer education. APM is the parent company of APM Financial Solutions and Account Portfolio Management LLC, neither of which has working telephone numbers.

The companies, according to the AG's office, unfairly pressured people and threatened lawsuits. The companies also were doing business in West Virginia without being licensed or bonded as required by state law.

McGraw’s office began investigating Hecker and the APM Companies in 2006 after receiving complaints from consumers who reported they were threatened with lawsuits and excessively pressured to pay alleged debts.

Hecker sent letters to consumers on his law office stationery to demand payment of the debts. The investigation revealed that the majority of the collection attempts were for "time-barred" debts - meaning those debts so old that the statute of limitations to sue had expired and lawsuits were therefore barred by law.

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