A Maryland regulatory board yesterday ordered a Chevy Chase debt collection firm to cease doing business for 21 days, charging the firm with harassing, threatening and overcharging a Silver Spring woman over a $228 bill.
The 21-day license suspension of Collectron Inc. -- called unprecedented by officials of the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Board -- will go into effect in about two weeks if the agency fails to appeal the board's decision.
The charges grew from a case involving a District of Columbia school teacher who said she was hounded over a $228 bill that Collectron claimed -- and she denied -- she owed a former landlord.
Collectron's president E. Brannon Anderson, who said his firm collects more than $1 million in debts a year, denied the charges yesterday and said the licensing board is "prejudiced and biased."
"We have had a running battle with the licensing board," Anderson said, "they are absolutely wrong." He said Collectron probably will appeal the suspension.
The board has a "vendetta" against his company, Anderson claimed, "because I am not a member of the American Collectors Association," a national organization. "The only thing we can do is keep defending ourselves."
Last summer Collectron signed a consent agreement at the request of the licensing board, agreeing not to harass or threaten consumers.
Late last month Collectron, accused of repeated violations of federal consumer protection and debt collection laws, signed a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department without admitting the charges but agreeing to pay the government $32,500 in penalties.
Collection maintains offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as Maryland.
The complaint filed last fall by D.C. schoolteacher Josephine Paige alleged that Collectron personnel were belligerent and abusive to her regarding a rental bill for a Temple Hills apartment where she once lived.
In an affidavit, Paige said Collectron employes called her last July and threatened to sue her if she failed to appear in their offices and pay part of the bill.
Paige said Collectron officials swore at her and pressured her into signing a promissory note for the debt.
She was called several times afterward and harassed by company employes, the affidavit said. "I was appalled and shocked," Paige said in her sworn statement.
According to a licensing board official, the board charged Collectron yesterday with harassment, improperly requiring Paige to sign a promissory note in excess of the amount owed her landlord, charging Paige an improper $50 legal fee and requiring her to sign the promissory note payable to Collectron without giving proof the collection agency was operating on the landlord's behalf.
The licensing board, created in 1977 by the Maryland legislature, regulates more than 160 collection agencies in the state. It has the power to revoke a company's license to do business if it finds that violations warrent such action.
An official of the board said additional complaints against Collectron are being investigated.