Great Lakes Collection Bureau, Inc. has agreed to pay a $150,000 civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by improperly contacting third parties, using abusive language, and falsely threatening attachment or garnishment of wages or property, or other legal actions.

The settlement prohibits the Buffalo, New York-based company from violating the FDCPA, requires the company to notify consumers of their right to tell Great Lakes to stop contacting them, and to notify its employees that they may be held liable for FDCPA violations.

The FTC's complaint detailing the charges in this case alleges that Great Lakes violated the FDCPA by, among other things:

The consent decree settling the charges would prohibit Great Lakes from engaging in the above practices or otherwise violating the FDCPA, and require the $150,000 civil penalty to be paid within five days. Additionally, the settlement would require Great Lakes to inform consumers of their right to ask the debt collector to stop contacting them by providing the following notice to consumers in each initial written communication for three years:

"Collection agencies must comply with a Federal law that provides consumers with certain rights. One of these is the right to have us stop communicating with you about this debt. If you write to us and ask us to stop communicating with you about this debt, we will not communicate with you except:

A. To advise you we may pursue specific remedies permitted by law or that we ordinarily pursue; or

B. To advise you our efforts are being terminated.

This law is administered by the Federal Trade Commission, New York Regional Office, 150 William St., Suite 1300, New York, N.Y. 10038."

Further, the settlement would require Great Lakes to provide the following notice to present and newly-hired employees responsible for debt collection:

"Debt collectors must comply with the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which limits our activities in trying to collect money from consumers. Most importantly, Sections 806 and 807 of the Act say that a debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person; and may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means, in connection with the collection of any debt. Individual debt collectors may be financially liable for their violations of the Act."

Finally, the settlement contains a number of recordkeeping requirements that would assist the FTC in monitoring Great Lakes' compliance with the settlement.

The Commission vote to authorize the filing of the complaint and consent decree was 5-0.

The Department of Justice, on behalf of the FTC, filed the settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, in Buffalo, on Aug. 30, and it requires the judge's approval to become binding.

NOTE: A consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute admission of a law violation. A consent decree has the force of law when signed by the judge.

Consumers' rights and debt collectors' responsibilities under the FDCPA are outlined in a consumer brochure, "Fair Debt Collection," which is available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, at the address below.

Copies of the complaint and consent decree, as well as the consumer brochure, are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 202-326-2502. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at:

(FTC File No. 912 3206)
(Civil Action No. 95-CV-0745A(S))