The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on April 27 entered into a consent order with a debt collection organization over questionable lawsuits. The firm Pressler & Pressler, LLP, two of its principal partners, and New Century Financial Services, Inc., a debt buyer, have agreed to stop what the Bureau describes as unfair and deceptive debt collection lawsuits based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence. The order bars the companies and individuals from illegal practices that can deceive or intimidate consumers. The orders also require the firm and the named partners to pay $1 million, and New Century to pay $1.5 million to the Bureau’s Civil Penalty Fund. The consent order can be found here.
“For years, Pressler & Pressler churned out one lawsuit after another to collect debts for New Century that were not verified and might not exist,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Debt collectors that file lawsuits with no regard for their validity break the law and violate the public trust. We will continue to take action to protect borrowers from abuse.”
Pressler & Pressler is a New Jersey-based law firm that collects consumers’ debts for creditors through lawsuits and other means. New Century Financial Services, also based in New Jersey, buys and collects defaulted consumer debts and hands off those accounts to Pressler & Pressler for collection. To collect alleged debts on behalf of New Century and others, Pressler & Pressler filed hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against consumers. Sheldon H. Pressler and Gerard J. Felt, partners of the firm, each participated in the firm’s debt collection litigation practices.
The CFPB found that to mass-produce these lawsuits, Pressler & Pressler used an automated claim-preparation system and non-attorney support staff to determine which consumers to sue. Attorneys generally spent less than a few minutes, sometimes less than 30 seconds, reviewing each case before initiating a lawsuit. This process allowed the firm to generate and file hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against consumers in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania between 2009 and 2014.
The CFPB found that the respondents violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practices in the consumer financial marketplace. The Bureau alleges that the firms and individuals made false claims about debts, filed lawsuits based upon unreliable or even false information, and harassed consumers with unsubstantiated court filings.