Debt creating consumer complaints in Illinois

Bryan Cohen Jan. 12, 2012, 2:45pm


CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released her list of the top 10 consumer complaints for 2011 on Wednesday, which revealed that consumer debt was the top complaint.

In an annual survey conducted by Madigan's office, consumer debt complaints ranked first in Madigan's top 10 list of complaints. There were close to 5,900 debt-related complaints, over 1,100 of which were filed against debt collectors who illegally harassed and threatened consumers. The Federal Trade Commission reported that in 2010, the entity's top complaint was abusive debt-collection practices.

"As this difficult economy persists, honest, hard-working families are increasingly targets for debt collectors that operate outside the law," Madigan said. "Though consumers may be struggling under the weight of debt, they still have the right to be protected against illegal harassment and fraud."

Consumer debt complaints were ranked first for the fourth consecutive year. As part of the announcement, Madigan filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a Skokie-based debt collector for allegedly violating several state and federal laws. PN Financial and Nelson Macwan, the company's owner, allegedly violated laws that protect consumers from "off-limits" debt collection tactics. The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

The defendants allegedly revealed debts to people other than the consumer, such as employers or family members, fronted as a law firm to intimidate consumers with fake court case numbers, accessed consumers' credit reports without authorization in an effort to intimidate them into paying the alleged debt, and debited more money from bank accounts than was authorized by consumers.

In some instances, PN Financial allegedly collected debts it was not authorized to collect. Some consumers lost at least $9,000 without realizing that they didn't owe any outstanding balances to the collection company. Other consumers were allegedly contacted over debts they had already paid off.

Madigan's office received 52 complaints against PN Financial and Chicago's Better Business Bureau received 82 complaints. The lawsuit seeks to shut down the company, permanently bar it from Illinois debt collection, assess multiple civil penalties and provide restitution to consumers affected by the company.

The other top 10 consumer complaints included identity theft, construction home improvement, telecommunications, motor vehicles/used auto sales, promotions and schemes, mail order, fraud against business, motor vehicle/non-warranty repair and utilities.

Madigan's office received over 200,000 calls for assistance and a total of 24,516 formal complaints in all.

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