Monday, November 1, 2010

Debt Collection Company Uses Fake Courtroom to Frighten Consumers Into Making Payments

File this under "why should anyone be surprised that debt collectors use illegal tactics to threaten consumers into making payments"?

From the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office:

Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced that a consumer protection lawsuit has been filed against an Erie debt collection company accused of using deceptive tactics to mislead, confuse or coerce consumers - including the use of bogus "hearings" allegedly held in a company office that was decorated to look like a courtroom.

Corbett said the civil lawsuit was filed by the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection against Unicredit America Inc., with corporate and business offices located at 1537 West 39th St., Erie, also identified as the "Unicredit Debt Resolution Center."

"This is an unconscionable attempt to use fake court proceedings to deceive, mislead or frighten consumers into making payments or surrendering valuables to Unicredit without following lawful procedures for debt collection," Corbett said. "Consumers also allegedly received dubious 'hearing notices' and letters - often hand-delivered by individuals who appear to be Sheriff Deputies - which implied they would be taken into custody by the Sheriff if they failed to appear at the phony court for 'hearings' or 'depositions'."

These fake courtrooms were used to intimidate victims into giving Unicredit access to their bank accounts and even surrendering vehicle titles and assets. Unicredit must have hired a few unemployed theatre graduates to do the set design because the description of this fake courtroom sounds like they covered all the details to make this look real enough to fool a lot of people. I would love to see photographs of this mess:

The fake courtroom allegedly contained furniture and decorations similar to those used in actual court offices, including a raised "bench" area where a judge would be seated; two tables and chairs in front of the "bench" for attorneys and defendants; a simulated witness stand; seating for spectators; and legal books on bookshelves. During some proceedings, an individual dressed in black was seated where observers would expect to see a judge.

I reported in June about a bill collector who threatened to blow up a man's house for not paying his $308.09 Verizon cell phone bill. I knew then that this was just the beginning because $308.09 is chump change to the $300,000 some graduates owe for their college and graduate school education. If someone's life could be threatened for that small amount, these debt collectors are capable of anything to get their money.

If any of you have been scammed by Unicredit, you can call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint.


  1. one way I've discovered to get a debt collector off the phone is to say that you're recording the conversation as well. His options are to acquiesce to the recording or to hang up BUT YOU MUST SAY THAT YOU'RE RECORDING.

    Find out exactly what debt collector *cannot* say in your state. Sometimes, they cannot threaten you with putting a lien on your primary work/ school vehicle. Sometimes they can't put a lien on your retirement account, or pension, or whatever a state may dictate. Simply ask those questions "Can you [insert illegal activity here]" and they will almost certainly say yes to all of them.

    Each individual response is a separate violation of state debt collection law. Also, there are federal laws that tack on civil penalties for violating state laws.

    There's a dude in Dallas that makes a living doing this. He's got $100K in student loans and every time he gets a debt collection phone call he makes a few thousand bucks. Genius.

  2. The FDCPA laws were purposely made to award only $1,000 per violation. Not many lawyers will race to Federal Court to file FDCPA violation lawsuits for chump change although attorneys' fees are conservatively awarded. Personally, I avoid creditor calls by cutting my mobile line. I use pre-paid burners. I haven't heard from a debt collector in 4 years. I have gone underground so I am not worried that Sallie Mae will set off against my tax refund. I have no real property so they can put a lien on my dirty underwear if they want. I plan on leaving the US of A shortly and where I am going, Sallie Mae's long arm falls limp.

  3. Thank you for posting this, HardKnocks. While it does not affect me, it does affect tons of people. These tactics should scare anyone.

    Landowners do this with regards to evictions. They must go through the eviction process, but many simply post the notice and get a stamped signature from the constable's office. Then the landlords often post a fake court decision on their door, "informing" them that they have 36 hours to leave the premises.

    What is sad is that this tactic works on vulnerable people.

  4. This is tragically hilarious.

    @4:53 - After working in the industry, my opinion is that FDCPA is best used as a counterclaim device when they sue you. That's where the real protection is, although some can get a lot of money out of multiple violations against select targets (e.g., debt purchasers). Overall, FDCPA works because firms that play by the rules have done better than firms like this piece of shit that are blatant targets for attorney generals and class action deep pockets.

    EvrenSeven - make sure that by recording, you're not inadvertently violating state wiretap statutes (I assume this is why you say you have to advise them).

    Nando - you correctly used "affect" instead of "effect." You are obviously overqualified to work at 95% of businesses in America.

  5. J-Dogged... ha!!!! I love affect and effect. It's a distinction that escapes most.

  6. The location in question is directly behind a bowling alley, but only about 5 minutes from the most reputable firms in Erie.

  7. November 1 anonymous -- believe it or not, I have a colleague (a solo, who is a Biglaw refugee) who makes a fair-to-middling living doing plaintiff's side FDCPA work. He's not getting rich, but he is paying his student loans and supporting his family. And is much happier because he feels like he is actually helping people, which after a decade in this profession I certainly can't say for myself.



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