By David Goldstein
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Nobody likes getting a call from a debt collector. But one local company is getting called out for allegations of threatening phone calls and now we have the tape to prove it.
“Can I just talk to you about your business?”
We had some questions for a Van Nuys man, who covered up his face and did not want to answer.
“People are claiming threats and intimidation on the part of your employees, Sir. Can you just address that with me?”
“Send me an E-mail and I’ll reply,” David Hynes answered.
Even though David Hynes didn’t talk, some of his employees at the debt-collection companies he runs out of in a building in Van Nuys had no problem speaking their minds.
“You’re a deadbeat piece of crap crackerhead.”
“We’re gonna have your dog arrested. We’re going to shoot him up and we’re going to eat him.”
That is what Tammy Henshaw of St. Louis heard on the phone.
When her 30-year-old daughter, Angela, died last May, she couldn’t afford to pay the funeral bill. Rumson Bolling and Associates, a company connected to Hynes, was hired to collect what she owed.
“They told me they were going take my daughter up and hang her by a tree,” Henshaw said.
That’s when she started recording the messages.
“You need to pay this bill. You need to pay this bill, crackerhead.”
One of the messages even included a death threat.
“Are you going to pay this bill right now… or am I going to have to kill you?”
Cynthia Lieu of South Pasadena had a similar experience last year…for a debt that wasn’t even hers.
“There was a very abusive, very ugly sort of tone to his voice,” Lieu said. “He said you have two hours to, you know, find the money. I can have a sheriff over your house lickety-split.”
Cynthia’s calls came from a company called Commercial Investigations Inc. We researched and found that Commercial Investigations is run by the same person as Rumson Bolling — David Hynes.
The Better Business Bureau said they had received more than 600 complaints about Hynes’ companies; not only consumers but businesses.
“I feel like they screwed us.”
Carolyn Minimum of Pacific Palisades has owned Pacific Electric for 26 years.
Last spring she hired Rumson Bolling to collect some missed payments and claims that she never saw a dime.
“Our clients paid them to give us the money, which we never got,” Minimum said.
The company claimed they did pay her some money. However, she said she lost all 20 clients that Rumson Bolling contacted because of threatening calls.
“They started to threaten them with sheriffs and police and watching out your window,” Minimum said.
“Bill collectors cannot harass you,” said Lloyd Dix, an attorney and member of a debt collection trade organization.
Dix told us that federal law prohibits threats, intimidation and calls late at night or early morning.
“They are entitled to ask you for the money and ask you to pay the bill, but they can’t take any actions which would cause you distress,” Dix said.
“Mr. Hynes, you have 600 complaints from the Better Business Bureau.”
Hynes didn’t want to talk and even tried to cover up the camera when we tried to question him.
His attorney later emailed to say that complaints against collection agencies are common.
“My client has a zero-tolerance policy for telephone hostility of any kind” and admitted “some personnel had to be terminated” for their behavior.
But some states are cracking down. In Minnesota the Department of Commerce revoked Rumson Bolling’s license, in part, because of false, deceptive or misleading representation in connection with the collection of a debt.
While other states have taken regulatory action against the company, one thing is certain. They will not lose their license to operate here in California. That’s because California did away with the licensing of debt collectors nearly 20 years ago. Right now in the state, the industry is unregulated.
“I think they need some real enforcement,” said Alec Trueblood, a local consumer attorney.
Trueblood thinks more regulation is needed.
“When a debt collector gets a complaint that goes through an agency, their license is on the line, they’re going to think twice about doing that again,” Trueblood said.
But for now the industry in California continues to be unregulated.
“You’re a piece of crap.”
After a reporter in St. Louis aired Tammy’s story, Rumson Bolling actually sent a check for her daughter’s funeral expenses. That’s one satisfied customer and hundreds of others, who claim Hynes’ companies went too far to collect a debt.
For more information about what debt collectors can, and cannot do, click on the following: http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm
To file a complaint against a debt collector, go to the following link: https://ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en
Statement from Rumson Bolling’s attorney
“Facing controversy and conflict in the field of debt collections while so many consumers and creditors are hurting financially is an issue that we take very seriously. We understand that your story about debt collections is an important one and hope to make a positive contribution.
My client’s business has devoted increased resources to providing customer service combined with education and real solutions to the problems debtors and debtor companies are encountering when met with adversarial collection proceedings. We are sensitive to the fact that while “being the bad guy” may be unavoidable, a compassionate and empathetic approach is not.
Policies have been implemented governing telephone conduct and we address any violations of that policy swiftly. Personnel are trained in the FDCPA and agree to uphold a code of ethics that they will abide by it, and at all times conduct themselves professionally.
Some personnel had to be terminated, demoted and/or re-trained when they were unable to detach themselves personally during hostile telephone exchanges and maintain composure. While some of that behavior may be legitimately tied to excessive industry-specific occupational stress, my client has a zero tolerance policy for telephone hostility of any kind. Several safeguards are in place to catch or prevent collection calls that begin to escalate beyond normal tonal parameters. Despite best efforts, complaints are still lodged against my client, and this is unavoidable, but my client responds and resolves these complaints.
Recently the collection industry has worked with the BBB, which has now recognized that the algorithm it used to calculate collection agency complaints did not factor both the volume of creditors and debtors when assessing the size of the potential field of complaint sources. My client’s complaint percentage is .01% when you calculate the total number of people the company contacts that could potentially complain. The BBB though is not inclined to use its formula to rate a business in this fashion, unless it is willing to “pay to play” as it were, by joining their “accreditation program” for an annual fee.
In Minnesota, my client’s licenses were revoked after attempts to informally negotiate a civil allegation that arose from one complaint were unsuccessful and cost-prohibitive. It became apparent that doing business in Minnesota was not profitable, a fine was paid and no my client no longer conducts business in Minnesota. This was nothing more than a pragmatic business decision. My client has an ongoing commitment to meeting all of the rapidly changing regulatory requirements which vary across jurisdictions.
If your concerns have not been adequately addressed, or there is a specific consumer who has solicited your assistance we would appreciate the opportunity to address and resolve any specific issue that you have taken an interest in.”