ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) —A company that buys bad debts has agreed to change its collection practices after the state of Minnesota accused it of filing unreliable court papers and carelessly targeting people for debts they didn’t owe, Attorney General Lori Swanson announced Wednesday.
Midland Funding LLC, one of the largest debt buyers in the country, has filed over 15,000 lawsuits against individuals in Minnesota courts since 2008.
Midland employees admitted in sworn testimony that they signed up to 400 mass-produced affidavits a day either without reading them, without knowing what they contained, and/or without verifying whether they contained accurate information, Swanson’s office said in a statement.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the state, Swanson called the practices “robo-signing.”
The company’s lack of verification and reliance on incomplete and/or inaccurate information resulted in many people being sued for debts that they either never owed or paid off long ago, and consumers feeling forced into settlements for much more than the original debts because of growing interest and attorneys’ fees, the lawsuit alleged.
Under a consent judgment signed by Hennepin County District Judge Denise Riley, Midland agreed to verify its information before attempting to collect on debts, to provide full information to people about the debts they allegedly owe, and to give them the chance to dispute illegitimate demands for payment. When it sues debtors, it agreed not to file affidavits with Minnesota courts unless the people signing them have read and understood them and verified the authenticity of any accompanying documents.
Midland also agreed to pay the state $500,000 and resolve any outstanding and future consumer complaints with the attorney general’s office.
Midland Funding, which has an office in St. Cloud, is a subsidiary of San Diego-based Encore Capital Group Inc. It has paid more than $2.1 billion to buy about 40 million accounts with a face value of about $66.4 billion, or about three cents on the dollar, mostly from banks, credit card companies and cellphone companies that had written off the bad debts, the attorney general’s office said.
The companies issued a statement saying a fresh review by a former federal judge found their current practices are sound. Much of what was agreed to has been in place since 2009 when Midland voluntarily strengthened its processes for generating affidavits, they said.
“After significant effort examining our company, Midland confirmed to the Minnesota Attorney General that no systemic issues were found with our current affidavit process. In addition, we confirmed that the underlying consumer debts are valid and that our current affidavit process accurately describes those debts,” Greg Call, Encore’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in the statement.
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