For one Texas woman, a contract she signed with a restoration company when her home set fire has turned into a debt nightmare.
Mara Kafarela, a homeowner in Harris County, Texas, is suing Blackmon Mooring for allegedly coercing her to sign a contract to restore her possessions after a fire at her home, then refusing to return her things when she claimed to have been overcharged, according to a lawsuit reported by Courthouse News Service. The suit also lists insurance company Texas Fair Plan Association and claims management company CJW & Associates Inc. as defendants, among others.
While the lawsuit refers to Blackmon Mooring as a debt collector, when contacted by The Huffington Post, Blackmon Mooring didn't comment on this particular case but said it does not offer debt collection services, and is primarily a fire damage repair company. According to the lawyer representing Kafarela, Jeffrey Raizner, Blackmon Mooring is identified as a debt collector in the lawsuit because “they started acting as a debt collector” when they threatened a lawsuit against Kafarela and withheld her possessions after she refused to pay what she says is a fraudulent invoice, he told The Huffington Post.
Despite not being an official debt collector, the behavior alleged against Blackmon Mooring in the lawsuit fits neatly alongside other recent instances of invasive debt collection. The number of debts referred to third party debt collection agencies has doubled since 2000, and that's been accompanied by an increase in complaints. With one in seven Americans now pursued by collection agencies, the industry is racking up the greatest number of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission of any sector, increasing 17 percent between 2009 and 2010.
Debt collection agencies are increasingly using the tried-and-true method of threats and harsh language against debtors, but they're also branching out into new, more inventive approaches. Collectors have reportedly harassed debtors through Facebook, called in fake suicide threat reports, impersonated policer officers and in many cases, even put people in debtors’ jail. Lisa Lindsay of Illinois, for example, was recently jailed for a debt she didn’t even owe.
In fact, this isn’t the only case related to debt that’s literally gone up in flames. According to his neighbors, mortgage and legal debts were part of what caused Andrew Wordes, a Georgia resident nicknamed the Chicken Man, to blow up his own house in March, the International Business Times reports.
Federal agencies are beginning to crack down on debt collectors. Representative Pete Stark of California has called for a federal investigation of hospital debt collector Accretive Health for alleged "abusive" tactics.
A less aggressive approach to debt collection may actually be best for all parties involved. The so-called "nice" debt collection agency Access Receivables recently reported payment increase of 40 percent after shifting to a new strategy that emphasized customer service instead of hostility.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Blackmon Mooring as a debt collection agency. It has also been updated to include the additional defendants involved in the case and comment from Kafarela's attorney explaining why the company is identified as a debt collector for the purposes of the lawsuit.