Washington State AG Sues Debt Collector for Deceptive Letters

Washington State Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Convergent Outsourcing, Inc., for using deceptive collection letters to pressure consumers into settling debts that were not enforceable in court. As alleged in the complaint, Convergent’s letters created a misleading impression that the company could sue consumers over debts even though they could not.

Washington State’s statute of limitations for debt-collection lawsuits expires six years after the date of default or last payment on a debt, as noted in the AG’s press release. Once the period is over, collectors cannot file a lawsuit over the debt, though they can still attempt to collect it. A debt that is no longer enforceable in court because the statute of limitations has expired is commonly referred to as a “time-barred” debt.

In the lawsuit against Convergent, the AG contends that the company sent thousands of consumers letters in which they attempted to collect time-barred debts. The AG alleges that the letters were misleading not only because they offered settlements on time-barred debts, but also because they added a false sense of urgency by telling consumers to respond within a fixed number of days. Furthermore, the letters failed to disclose that consumers could not be sued over the debts because they were time-barred. The AG asserts that Convergent’s conduct violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Collection Agency Act.

Earlier, in 2014, Convergent’s letters were the subject of a lawsuit filed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is a federal statute that prohibits deceptive and misleading conduct by third-party debt collectors. As asserted in the lawsuit, Convergent sent a letter to consumer Roxanne Daugherty which offered her a settlement on a time-barred debt without disclosing that the debt was unenforceable in court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided in 2016 that Daugherty’s complaint was facially sufficient and stated that, “a collection letter seeking payment on a time-barred debt (without disclosing its unenforceability) but offering a ‘settlement’ and inviting partial payment (without disclosing the possible pitfalls) could constitute a violation of the FDCPA.”

Though not filed under the FDCPA, the present AG lawsuit seeks relief under state laws that also prohibit deceptive and misleading conduct by debt collectors. The AG seeks to recover and return funds collected from consumers who paid Convergent after receiving the letters in question, as stated in the complaint.

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