Oregon AG wants oversight of collection agencies

Chris Rizo Feb. 10, 2009, 12:41pm

John Kroger (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon's attorney general says his office, not the state's consumer department, should regulate collection agencies.

Attorney General John Kroger is calling for passage of legislation that would move oversight of collection agencies from the Department of Consumer and Business Services to the state Department of Justice.

Kroger says it makes sense to have his office regulate debt collectors since his agency enforces Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

"Oregon is defenseless, companies know about it, and I think they exploit it," Kroger said. "They push the envelope, and sometimes they go past it. I think that is not good for consumers or the rule of law."

The legislation -- outlined in Senate Bill 328 -- is backed by consumer advocacy groups, including the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. The trade group that represents collectors, however, says the Democratic attorney general is misguided in his approach to protecting consumers from unscrupulous collectors.

The Oregon Collectors Association says rather than move collection oversight to the attorney general's office, the Legislature ought to give more authority to the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which licenses debt-collection agencies and regulates third-party debt collection.

Since 2001, the number of complaints about debt collection practices has been on Department of Justices' Top 10 Consumer Complaint List.

Last year, the Justice Department received 834 written consumer complaints about debt collection agencies and 254 about first party debt collectors.

"Individuals who are victims of unlawful debt collection practices frequently cannot afford to pursue a private lawsuit either because the debt is too small or because the debtor cannot afford to retain private counsel," Kroger said. "As a consequence, private enforcement of Oregon's debt collection laws has not been effective in curbing unlawful practices, as evidenced by the steady number of consumer complaints filed with DOJ over the last several years."

The bill -- sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, and Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene -- would make it easier for consumers to take debt collectors to court by awarding attorney fees to defendants only if consumers filed suit in bad faith or for purposes of harassment.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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