It's been more than a year since Judy King of Reston has been able to write a check at a local store -- ever since she tangled with Telecheck Washington Inc., a Bethesda collection agency.
King charged in court papers filed last month in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that for several months Telecheck agents have harassed her and her parents and told her daughter if a debt allegedly owed was not paid her "mother would go to jail."
For about a year, the consumer protection agencies of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties and the Maryland attorney general's office have been investigating scores of complaints against Telecheck similar to King's, according to an official close to the investigation.
"Some of the allegations are that people were called on the job, called a multitude of times, they go to neighbors and use terms and references to their racial heritage and profanity," the official said. "The fact isn't whether the debt is owed or not owed, it's how iths collected."
Federal and state law prohibits bill collectors from harassing or thratening alleged debtors or from calling them between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Telecheck denies the charges.
Collectron, an arm of Telecheck, "supervises and monitors all calls" made to alleged debtors, according to a statement released by the company. Employes making the calls are required to use a company-approved script from which they cannot deviate, the statement said.
The company receives about 36,000 bad checks annually which it must collect, the statement said, and only 3 percent of those collections result in complaints. Those who do complain have a history of bad credit and bounced checks, the statement said. A company spokesman said officials would no answer any questions concerning the charges.
The county official, who declined to be identified, said that officials from both counties and the state have been negotiating with Telecheck to get a cease and desist agreement. But no agreement has been reached, the county official said.
Officials in the District said they also have received complaints. A spokesman for Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, however, said they have recived no complaints against Telecheck.
King contends in her suit that one day in February last year she attempted to pay by check for some purchases at the Giant Music store in Falls Church. "The merchant refused (her) check because of the credit rating on (her) given him by Telecheck," the suit contends.
Telecheck told her that she was refused credit because she owed her former landlord money. King alleged that she was never notified of the debt -- until about three months later.
King alleges that Collectron agents called her at home, at work, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and as many as six times a day.Collectron called her parents in Jackson, Miss., and told her 14-year-old daughter over the phone that if King did not pay the debt her mother would go to jail, King alleged.