In this case, Collier fired back with a lawsuit, which rightfully has garnered plenty of press attention. That's a good start, but Collier's action isn't the only investigation that should happen in this case. Gurstel Chargo is based in the Minneapolis area, and Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has been among the most proactive AGs in the nation in protecting citizens from debt collector abuse and prosecuting firms that violate the law. Collier is suing for civil damages, though the spin doctors at Gurstel Chargo are now scrambling to clean up this PR disaster.
"We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the Complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm. We expect that all Gurstel Chargo employees fully comply with all state and federal laws, and we thoroughly train our employees to perform their job in a lawful and respectful manner. Under no circumstances does our firm tolerate the type of conduct alleged in the Complaint," the firm posted on its website.
Nevertheless, a criminal investigation may not be out of the realm of possibility and may be justified here.
Not all debt collectors are so monstrous, but the industry's long history of truly awful behavior has earned the ire not only of consumers, but also that of state attorneys general and at least two federal regulators, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which have flagged debt collectors as a persistent threat both to consumers' livelihoods and to the American justice system itself.
Let me pause here for the requisite disclaimer --- because unlike many debt collectors, I do believe in the rule of law. Even though some debt collectors pursue their targets as though they were judge, jury and hangman all rolled into one --- sometimes demanding payment for debts they can't even prove they have the right to collect --- America is still built on the principle that everyone is presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. Maybe the legal assistant didn't make such threats, or maybe they weren't as awful as Collier alleges.
Before anyone grabs their torch and pitchfork, let's wait for juries to make their determinations. However, if Mr. Collier's allegations are true, then we must make sure that these debt collectors never again have the power to bully innocent people, whoever they might be.
[Related Article: 11 Ways A Debt Collector May Be Breaking the Law]
Furthermore, the pursuit of justice in this case and so many others like it must not stop in Minnesota. For years, the Federal Trade Commission has been gathering data about misdeeds by debt collectors, and it has prosecuted some of the most egregious players. Many State AGs have litigated and won significant settlements as well. Unfortunately, this represents but a finger in the dike. FTC data indicates that misbehavior by debt collectors is actually getting worse, which tells me that the FTC and state regulators are overwhelmed by the number --- and, in many cases, the sheer audacity --- of debt collector abuses that they know about. What about the tens of thousands of incidents that no one ever hears about due to fear or intimidation?