CLEVELAND, Ohio—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed suit last month against a debt collection company with ties to the adult entertainment industry that he accuses of violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by hounding "consumers across the country for debts they did not owe and [tarnishing] some of their financial reputations," according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The company, Sylvania-based Royal Oak Financial, did business as Collection Recovery Bureau and was known in the industry simply as CRB. Its president, Ron Burnard, told the Dispatch the company closed this August in a decision unrelated to the lawsuit. The website that CRB launched in Feb. 2011 to market CRB Adult is no longer online. The closure did not stop the lawsuit, however, which is seeking $175,000 in fines related to seven alleged violations of state and federal law.
"Since 2009," reported the Dispatch, "hundreds of consumers have complained to DeWine’s office and the Better Business Bureau about being harassed by the company to repay debts that were fraudulently charged to their credit cards.
"The consumers said they were hounded with relentless phone calls and abusive language to pay debts they did not owe," the paper continued, adding that consumers "were threatened with lawsuits, arrest and damaged credit histories if they didn’t pay."
“We’re going after them," DeWine said after filing the lawsuit in Lucas County, Ohio on Sept. 20.
When its new site launched in 2011, CRB provided the following description of its services. "CRB has been in business over 8 years specializing in the collection of unpaid customer accounts within the adult entertainment industry. CRB recovers additional revenue for their clients by collecting on their Credit Card chargebacks, ACH/Check returns, Telco chargebacks, etc. CRB not only offers a contingency collection program but also a Forward Flow Purchase Program whereby they pay their clients upfront for their chargebacks. CRB’s clients, in their Forward Flow Purchase Program, have immediate access to cash on accounts they thought were lost revenue or just a cost of doing business."
Burnard was contacted by the Dispatch last month, and told the paper that the lawsuit "played no role in his decision to close" the company on August 31 despite the fact that "he was aware that DeWine’s office was investigating his company."
He added, "I’ve been in the collection business for 40 years. The past five years have been the most difficult because of the economy."
The allegations by the state AG appear to exemplify the type of complaints that have caused DeWine to implement a campaign against, as the paper put it, "credit-reporting system[s] that cause financial hardship to innocent consumers."
Specifically, the complaint alleges that CRB violated state and federal law by, among other things, trying to collect on debts that were not really owed, not being registered in Ohio, using abusive language meant to intimidate consumers, refusing to send supporting documentation upon request, continuing to try to collect after a consumer had disputed the debt, adding collection and other fees to alleged debt, threatening to report alleged debt to credit reporting agencies and threatening consumers with arrest and imprisonment if a debt was not paid.
In addition to the requested fine of $25,000 per violation, amounting to $175,000, the state is asking the court to order CRB to reimburse "all consumers found to have been damaged by the Defendant's unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable acts and practices, including, but not limited to, making restitution to consumers who have paid sums to the Defendant because of the Defendant's collections practices that are found to be in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act... and the Consumer Sales Practices Act..."
AVN attempted to contact CRB for comment, but did not receive a reply by post time.
The complaint can be accessed here.