Telecheck Washington Inc., a Bethesda-based firm that guarantees checks, and a one-time subsidiary, Collection Inc., have been charged with repeated violations over the past two years of the federal consumer protection and debt collection laws, including false and deceptive practices and harassing consumers.
The two companies, no longer connected, signed a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department without admitting the charges last week, and Telecheck and Collectron each agreed to pay the government $32,500 in penalties.
In its complaint and consent agreement filed last week in U.S. District Court, the commission charged Telecheck with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which establishes guidelines for debt collection agencies.
Telecheck, which until last year owned 80 percent of Collectron, a firm that collected checks purchased by the company, was charged with misrepresenting its authority to consumers. For example, the FTC said the company, based at 6935 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda, told consumers they "would be arrested or imprisoned or the ir property would be seized or attached" if their debts were not paid.
FTC charged that the company violated the debt collection act by "misrepresenting that consumers would be unable to have any check accepted in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area or in othe locations" if the debts or checks at issue were not paid immediately.
The FTC also charged that Telecheck placed "unreasonable requirements" on consumers without attempting to investigate allegations that either forgery or mistaken identity had occurred in connection with their personal checks.
In addition, Telecheck was charged with violating the 1978 debt collection law by contacting consumers employers, fellow employes, neighbors and relatives in an effort to seek information without the appropriate consent. a