A Montgomery County-based debt collection agency was accused by state officals yesterday of harassing, threatening and overcharging a Silver Spring woman in violation of Maryland laws.
The officals charged Collectron Inc. with violation of the Maryland Commercial Code and said the agency could lose its license to operate in the state.
The charges grew from a case involving Josephine Paige of Silver Spring, who said she was hounded over a $228 bill Collectron claimed she owed to a former landlord.
The charge, which represents the first time a bill collection agency has been formally cited since the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Board was created two years ago, comes three months after Collectron and the state signed a consent agreement under which the company agreed not to harass or threaten consumers.
Collectron, which maintains offices in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, as well as Maryland, recently paid $32,500 in a similar settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which also had charged the firm with harassing debtors, according to Collectron president E. Brannon Anderson.
In an interview yesterday, Anderson said that the charges by the state were groundless. He said the case against Collectron was the product of a vendetta by state officials who had "trumped up charges" because of Collectron's past problems.
"We've turned things around and put the bad behind us," Anderson said. "This is not our style. Our compaint level has been very low. The [state officials] have gone overboard about us."
The Collection Agnecy Licensing Board, which filed the charges with approval from the state attorney general's office, scheduled a hearing on The Collectron case Jan. 8 in Montgomery County. The five-member board has the power to suspend or revoke the company's license, according to Chairman Alan T. Fell.
Fell said yesterday that the licensing board and the state attorney general's office had received a number of complaints about alleged harassment of billpayers by Collectron over the past year. The five charges against the firm, however, are drawn from the complaint of Paige, who gave state officials a sworn affidavit.
In the affidavit, Paige said Collectron employes called her last July and threatened to sue her if she did not appear at their offices and pay part of a bill she owed Gateway Realty.
Paige said Collectron employes swore at her and pressured her into signing a promissory note for the debt.
She called several times afterward and harassed by company employes, the affidavit said.
"I was appalled and shocked," Paige said in the sworn statement.
State officals charged that the promissory note signed by Paige included an improper $50 "legal fee" in addition to the rent she owned. Collectron also is charged with including an improper provision in the note for a 25 percent penalty if Paige did not pay off the note on time.
Anderson said yesterday Collectron charged Paige only the amount her landlord asked the agency to collect. He added that his employes denied they harassed or swore at Paige and were willing to take lie detector tests to show they were telling the truth.
State officials said yesterday that Collectron worked for several Washington-area realty companies and at one time was affiliated with Telecheck, a service that guarantees consumers' checks to local merchants.