From the Office of the New York Attorney General
- Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo [...] announced that his office has filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down a Buffalo-based debt collection operation consisting of 13 debt collection companies run by Buffalo residents Omar Smith, Narvell Benning and Keith Marshall (collectively, the "Benning-Smith Group”).(1) [...] According to the more than 850 consumer complaints filed with the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau, the Benning-Smith Group's employees violated state and federal law by routinely posing as law enforcement officials and threatening to arrest or to physically harm consumers unless they made arrangements to pay the company immediately. Additionally, the Benning-Smith Group made abuse and humiliation a trademark of their collection practices by verbally abusing consumers and, in some instances, sexually harassing them. To date, the Attorney General’s investigation has identified more than a thousand instances in which the Benning-Smith Group breached state and federal statutes.(2)
For the New York AG press release, see Attorney General Cuomo Sues To Shut Down Buffalo-Based Debt Collection Operation That Illegally Harassed And Threatened Consumers Nationwide (Employees Used Verbal Abuse and Sexual Harassment to Intimidate Consumers Into Paying Debts; Latest Action in Cuomo's Ongoing Probe into Unlawful Debt Collection Practices).
For another story on debt collectors using threats of criminal prosecution to collect debts, see Public Citizen: California Court Approves Class-Action Lawsuit Against Debt Collector Accused of Abusive Tactics (Suit Says Company Wrongly Threatened Consumers With Criminal Prosecution):
- ACCS [American Corrective Counseling Services, Inc.] uses its contract with local prosecutors to send out letters on official stationary, threatening consumers who have written bad checks with criminal prosecution or jail unless they pay collection fees. Many of these consumers were threatened with criminal charges, even though no prosecutor had reviewed their cases and ACCS, as a private debt collector, lacks the authority to make such threats. Go here to read the documents in the case.(3)
(1) According to the NY AG, the Benning-Smith Group operated under several names, including: Abrams, Burke & Associates; Benning and Smith Acquisitions, Inc.; Brady and Caruso, LLC; DebtPayments.com; DebtPayments.com, LLC; Fredericks, Goldstein & Zoe; Graham, Noble & Associates Bookkeeping; Graham, Noble & Associates LLC; Graham, Beagle & Associates LLC; Kingman, Cole and Associates, LCC; Marshall and Ziolkowski Enterprise, LLC; Marshall Ziolkowski Acquisitions, LLC; Lansky, Goldstein, Zoe; OLS Payment Services; and University Debt Collection.
(2) According to the press release, Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation revealed that collectors regularly demanded payment for non-existent debts or substantially inflated the amount owed on an actual debt. Using their false law enforcement identities, collectors coerced and cajoled terrified consumers into agreeing to make payments. Frightened at the prospect of arrest and humiliation, consumers authorized withdrawals from their checking accounts, sent Western Union moneygrams and/or money orders out of fear. In one instance, a Benning-Smith collector kept repeating the name of a consumer’s daughter, describing various sexual things he would do to her unless the debt was paid. Another collector told a female consumer that if both she and her husband would engage in sexual acts with him, he would pay their debt himself. Collectors routinely called consumers “drunks,” “scumbags,” “deadbeats,” and, in one instance, “a low-life piece of trash.”
(3) Public Citizen Litigation Group, attorney for the debtor, describes this case as one that "challenges arrangements under which local prosecutors rent their name and authority to private debt collectors, who use false threats of prosecution to coerce people who have written bad checks to pay various fees. The fees are then split between the debt collectors and the prosecutors."