R & J Consulting: Another scam debt collector?
by Carol Thompson
The phone rings. The caller claims to be from United Processing Services. The message: Call an unnamed law firm within a specified time period, usually an hour or two, or a process server will arrive at your door, or worse, at your place of employment. Don’t ask questions because there are no answers. The case is purportedly sealed, however, a case number is provided to give to an attorney at the toll-free phone number for the purported law firm.
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A call to the so-called “law firm” leads to a company called R & J Consulting where the person answering is a debt collector, not an attorney, and will attempt to collect a debt- or a presumed debt- or a phantom debt.
The threatening calls often go to those who are in the midst of a major purchase, such as a mortgage, refinance or vehicle loan. The calls put some in a panic as they don’t want anything to prevent or delay their purchase.
Many succumb to the scam because at first glance everything looks legitimate. An Internet search of “United Processing Services” returns “United Process Service,” a legitimate company based in New York City. The consumer may believe they simply heard the name wrong and assume it was the legitimate company that placed the call.
“It’s a scam,” a spokesperson from United Process Service said, adding that process servers don’t give advance warning.
United Processing Services, purportedly operating out of the Albany, N.Y. area could not be located following an extensive search.
A search of R & J Consulting did return an impressive website with a picture of a group of professionally dressed men and woman surrounding a large conference table with shelves of law books as a backdrop. A reverse image search, however, shows the photo, slightly cropped, as belonging to an Oklahoma law firm. Other photos on the R & J Consulting website are stock photos, according to reserve image searching.
VNN placed a call to R & J Consulting to interview one of their attorneys for this story. A woman answering the phone said she would transfer the call. Six minutes later a man who identified himself as “Josh” said that he wasn’t allowed to speak to the press and added that the attorney was out of the office, however, he would transfer the call to the attorney’s office so that a voice message could be left.
When asked who the call was being transferred to, Josh said, “Shawn Bradley.” VNN then asked if Bradley was an attorney.
“Correct,” Josh said. Asked again, Josh said “yes.”
Josh transferred the call to what he said was Bradley’s voice mail, however, the voice mail was answered by someone named Justin. A message was left and as of publication the call has not been returned.
Bradley is not a licensed attorney in California, according to that state’s bar association.
The address listed on the R & J Consulting website is 26025 Newport Rd. Suite A-469 Menifee, Ca. 92584. Tax records show the property housing a UPS store. An employee of the UPS store confirmed the address. When asked about R & J consulting, the employee said she was not at liberty to give out any other information.
The UPS site in Menifee does offer mailbox service and customers can use the UPS address with a suite number, according to their website. They also offer mail forwarding and package acceptance.
It’s not only R & J Consulting that uses the same address and suite number. A search brought up the company J.D. Mitchell & Associates, another debt collection company.
J.D. Mitchell & Associates also looks to be a legitimate company at first glance, however, a reverse image search of a photo posted on the website is a cropped image taken from www.archithings.com.
There’s a plethora of complaints on the Internet about both companies, including complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and when it comes to unscrupulous debt collection, the Federal Trade Commission also receives a plethora of complaints.
“We get more complaints about debt collectors than any type of industry,” said Chris Koegel of the FTC’s Division of Financial Practices, adding that the agency receives approximately 250,000 complaints about debt collection companies each year. The agency is aggressive in efforts to stop unscrupulous debt collectors and has permanently banned 60 thus far.
How debt collectors find you
Many debt collectors purchase old, time-barred accounts for pennies on the dollar. In most instances, the debts are beyond the statute of limitations. Each state has its own limits.
Debt collectors try to collect on the old receivables in hopes the consumer is unaware of the statute of limitations and also by using threats, such as bank account seizure, wage garnishment, or even arrest. In some instances, the collector will attempt to collect a debt from someone with the same name and sometimes the debt never existed at all, commonly referred to as a phantom debt.
For those obtaining mortgages the collector can purchase the information from other parties.
“What were’ finding is that consumer’s go online looking for information, such as exploring mortgages and they think they’re entering information into the lender’s actual site but it’s actually a lead generator that captures all the personal information the person enters and then selling it out to, in some cases, multiple parties,” Koegel said. “That’s a big problem. That’s a real sensitive point for consumers. You’re closing on a house and you think this is going to be a problem.”
Some buy time-barred debts and do a “soft-pull” of a credit report to locate the consumer. The soft-pull doesn’t count negatively on the overall credit score and often don’t show when a consumer receives his or her credit report.
When to be suspicious of a debt collector
If you don’t recognize the debt that somebody’s talking to you about that’s the red flag that you need to go and do more research, Koegel said.
“Anybody that threatens you with harassment- that’s a huge red flag. Owing a debt is not a crime in this country. There’s no debtors prison,” he added. Also, if the caller won’t give you an address or a phone number or if they right away ask you for sensitive personal information.
If a debt collector contacts your employer or a family member, they are in violation of the law. Debt collectors don’t have the right to contact a third party nor can they tell a third party that a debt is owed. The one exception is if a debt collector can’t locate the debtor, however, even in that instance they cannot imply the consumer owes a debt. It is a law that is fairly frequently violated, Koegel said.
What to do if you receive a debt collection call
It’s important for the consumer to ask for the collectors’ name, the company name, and the phone number. When on the call, refuse to discuss any debt until the company sends a validation notice, Koegel said. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Section 809, requires the collector to send a written notice within five days of communication with the consumer.
The validation must contain four key pieces of information, Koegel said.
“The first is the amount of the debt. The second is the name of the person who currently owns the debt and the third and fourth are explanations of certain rights that the consumer has. The consumer has the right to dispute or request verification of the debt and the consumer has the right to obtain the original creditors name and address.”
Koegel noted that there are additional steps that a consumer can take such as contacting the original creditor and asking if the collector has the authority to collect the debt. It’s also important to exercise due diligence to research the debt collection company and it’s critical for the consumer to pull a free credit report. Koegel recommended annnualcreditreport.com. The website does provide credit information, however, it does not provide a credit score. Credit Karma does provide free credit monitoring with scores.
Any legitimate debt should show up on your credit report, Koegel said. “If that alleged debt doesn’t show up on the credit report there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”
If the debt is showing on the credit report the consumer should dispute the information with the credit bureaus and send a certified letter to the debt collection company. That should stop the calls until the debt is validated, Koegel said.
Any debt collector cannot sue in court after the statute of limitations. Moreover, a delinquent debt is not reported indefinitely on a credit report. Generally it’s removed after seven years.
As for any company or person representing themselves as an attorney, Koegel said it’s not legal. “The unauthorized practice of law is a felony,” he said.
Image: Flickr/Jonny Mason