Southern California debt collection operation to refund $4 million

SoCal debt collection workers who used deceptive tactics agree to pay back $4 million to consumers

A Southern California debt collection operation agreed to refund more than $4 million to consumers to settle allegations that its employees posed as process servers and used other deceptive tactics, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.

Asset Capital and Management Group, which also did business under several other names, operated out of Orange and Riverside counties until a federal judge shut it down and froze its assets in August at the agency's request.

Federal regulators said the four people who ran the operation -- Thai Han, Keith Hua, James Novella and Jim Tran Phelps -- "employed an assortment of deceptive and abusive tactics" to collect past-due credit card debts.

In addition to pretending to be process servers, they "falsely threatened consumers with lawsuits, wage garnishment, seizure of their property and arrest," the agency said.

The operation also disclosed information about debts to consumers' employers, colleagues and family members, in violation of federal law.

“Consumers shouldn’t be subjected to threats and intimidation,” said Jessica Rich, director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re pleased that victims of this scheme will be getting money back from the defendants.”

After a lawsuit by the agency, the four people were ordered to pay $90.5 million. To settle the case, they will turn over personal assets, which, along with frozen company funds, total more than $4 million.

They also are banned from doing debt collection work.

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