GLOVERSVILLE - Profane and threatening language and a barrage of harassing phone calls are what a city woman is alleging a collection agency subjected her to before she called a lawyer.
Jeri Ruck of Gloversville has filed suit against The Collection Bureau of the Hudson Valley in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York, alleging repeated violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The federal legislation guarantees consumers the right to dispute a debt and outlines what a collection agency can say and how often it can contact the consumer.
Ruck has an unlisted phone number and couldn't be reached, but her Stamford, Conn.-based attorney, Sergei Lemberg, said in many cases consumers are unaware of their rights.
"My feeling is that 99.9 percent of consumers who deal with collection agencies are oblivious to what their rights are," Lemberg said. "Most of the rights violations that take place never get prosecuted because people don't know that they have rights. People don't know how to assert their rights, and so what we're seeing, in my personal opinion, is the tip of the iceberg."
According to the suit, Ruck owed an unspecified debt to MBT Bank that was used "primarily for family, personal or household purposes."
Lemberg said he could not say the amount of debt owed or specify the circumstances under which it accrued.
The debt was purchased by CBHV, based in Newburgh, which began trying to collect the debt in July.
CBHV President Eric Najork said he could not comment specifically on the litigation, but said lawsuits against collection agencies have increased three-fold nationwide in the last four or five years.
"It's really somewhat unfortunate for our industry to be under attack like that because we're just trying to collect for creditors," said Najork, who also is president of the New York state Collectors Association, which includes 145 agencies in the state.
Najork said his company provides training for its employees on the laws and requires they pass tests.
"We record our calls and do our best to hire as many professional people as we can, and we put parameters within our technology, like your dialers won't allow consumers to be called more than once a day," Najork said.
He said the average debt amount involved in such suits is $250, a relatively small amount, and that the company has insurance for such legal matters.
"If they don't pay the creditor, our economic system in America goes out the door. It's a credit-based society, so if nobody pays, we're all out of luck," Najork said.
On July 19, 2011, a man who identified himself as Bill Jordan called Ruck and tried to collect the debt, according to the lawsuit. Ruck requested Jordan provide proof she actually owed the debt.
"Mr. Jordan stated that it was not his job to provide her with such proof and hung up the call," according to the suit.
Jordan called Ruck multiple times speaking in a "harassing and abusive manner" and told Ruck her mother, father or fiance should pay the debt, the suit alleges.
"On numerous occasions, Mr. Jordan called plaintiff immediately after she mentioned that she did not wish to speak to Mr. Jordan and discontinued the call," the suit alleges.
Then, one day, Jordan told Ruck his name was "Alan Palmer," and when Ruck asked Jordan's supervisor if a man named Alan Palmer worked at the agency, the supervisor hung up on her, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges Ruck is suffering from "humiliation, anger, anxiety, emotional distress, fear, frustration and embarrassment" as a result of the agency's phone calls.
In the suit, Lemberg requested a jury trial, but he said most of these cases are settled before that point.
The law provides an award of up to $1,000 if the judge finds in the plaintiff's favor.
"Our clients get between $500 and $1,000. There are some cases where clients have actual damages - they've lost their job or suffered an actual harm. In my experience, those cases are unusual and uncommon. Most of the time, people sue for statutory damages plus legal fees and the cost of bringing the suit," Lemberg said.
In Ruck's case, Lemberg is asking for actual damages, statutory damages, recover of legal fees and punitive damages in "such amount as is found appropriate," according to the suit.
Lemberg, who wrote a book called "Seize Your Power: How to Stop Debt Collectors NOW," suggested consumers learn their rights.
"Figure out what collections agencies can and cannot do before you start dealing with them," he said.