For Alice Holston the problems began with a misunderstanding and ended with a $100 windfall. But the ordeal she experienced was not worth the money, she said.
Holston is among 16 consumers who were each awarded between$100 and $450 in a consent decree following a year of alleged name-calling from Collectron Inc., a Bethesda collection agency.
In a consent decree settlement no guilt is admitted.
Thirty-eight consumers settled in the case negotiated by the D.C. Office of Consumer Protection (ocp). In lieu of paying a fine, Collectron will also pay OCP $1,000 to reimburse Ocp for its work on the case.
The case was settled last week following a year of negotiations in which consumers said they were insulted, threatened and repeatedly bothered at home and on their jobs by collection agents.
Aside from the personal grievance, one consumer may have lost a job promotion as a result of the dipute, said Victor Simon, an OCP attorney.
According to Simon, consumers said they were threatened with arrest, called "deadbeats" and contacted through their children and job supervisors.
E. Bannon Anderson, who bought Collection last May, expressed doubt about the consumers' complaints. He said he negotiated the case with OCP "to get rid of it. With few exceptions those people weren't entitled to one red cent."
The debts -- which have since been repaid -- were between two weeks and two years overdue when Collectron stepped in, he said. But a few people, like Holston, said the charges Collectron and Telecheck (a chech rating company that owned Collectron) had dogged them about were never proven.
Anderson said he was skeptical of their claims.
"I felt these people loopholed the system," he said.
Since May, Anderson said he has expanded the services of the company, replace half of its 35 staff members and separated from Telecheck, although the company still handles Telecheck accounts.
The settlement requires Ocp to direct any future conplaints it receives against Collection to Anderson within a day.
In another case, pending before the Federal Trade Commission, Anderson said Collectron is expected to pay about $32,000. An FTC spokesman, who said his office had received more than 200 complaints against Telecheck and Collectron since March 1978, said the expected amount is closer to $37,500.
Collectron collects "in excess of $1 million a year," Adderson said. Its earnings are less than half of that, he said.
Simon said Ocp initially didn't plan to settle.
At first our intention was to just get the (alleged) harassment stopped. At the height of it we were maybe hoping to put them out of business," he said. "When they improved their record, we were happy to settle with them."
The office has received only one complaint against Collectron since June, Simon said. In the past year more than 100 complaints were made, but most were poorly documented or the consumers lost interest in pursuing them, Simon said.
A spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General's Office said his staff has received 50 to 60 complaints against Telecheck and Collectron during the past two and a half years.
Simon said Ocp received help from the Maryland Attorney General's office, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Affairs and WRC-TV's Contact 4 consumer service in settling the dispute.