Debt collection firm to pay largest-ever FTC penalty for allegedly harassing consumers

Massive debt collection firm Expert Global Solutions has agreed to pay a $3.2 million civil penalty to settle charges it violated consumers' rights when attempting to collect debts, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The agency said it was the largest settlement ever obtained from a third-party collection firm, and it described Expert Global — formerly known as NCO Group — as the "world's largest debt collection operation," with 32,000 employees and $1.2 billion in annual revenues.

In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Expert Global called consumers late at night, early in the morning, at their workplaces, and even after agents for the firm promised to stop calling.

Consumers who said they had been reached in error by the firm, who did not owe a debt, were also called repeatedly, the FTC said.

"Defendants (called) persons repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, harass, or abuse," the complaint said. The firm also left voice mail messages for target consumers that disclosed the existence of a debt to third parties.

The firm must now pay the penalty and agree to end such practices, which the FTC says violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

"We are pleased to have resolved this matter," the company said in a statement. "We cooperated fully with the FTC's 2010 investigation and have already implemented systems and procedures to help address their areas of concern."

As part of the agreement, the firm neither admits nor denies the allegations.

Expert Global operates under a number of brand names, including: ALW Sourcing, LLC; NCO Financial Systems, Inc.; and Transworld Systems, Inc., which also does business as North Shore Agency, Inc. It has offices in the U.S., Canada, Barbados, India, the Philippines and Panama, according to the FTC.

The agency has helpful tips for dealing with debt collectors on its website.