For Immediate Release
ST. PAUL, MN – A Chicago-based collection agency that allegedly misplaced the personal medical and financial records of 23,531 Minnesota patients and allegedly violated other state laws now faces corrective action from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Chicago-based Accretive Health, Inc., a licensed debt collector in Minnesota, faces allegations that the company deceived debtors, allowed unregistered employees to act as debt collectors, and went to great lengths to disguise its role as a collection agency from consumers.
“These allegations represent a troubling disregard for our debt collection laws,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “We are investigating this matter thoroughly; which will require the company’s utmost cooperation.”
A consent order signed by Commissioner Rothman alleges that Accretive violated numerous sections of Minnesota’s debt collection laws (Minn. Stat. Ch. 332), Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and the Minnesota Health Records Act. Rothman ordered that the company’s collections license be temporarily suspended until certain conditions are met to bring the company into compliance with state law.
Actions taken today by the Commerce Department are based on an extensive complaint filed in U.S. District Court by the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General in mid-January. The Attorney General’s complaint includes allegations that Accretive:
Failed to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct data security violations and the Minnesota Health Records Act. Accretive allegedly unlawfully released the health records and personal information of at least 23,531 Minnesota hospital patients when an Accretive employee left those records in a car on an unencrypted laptop that was then stolen.
Engaged in a practice of allowing unregistered persons to act as debt collectors. Accretive lists employee Steve Walters as its sole individual collector with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. However, other Accretive employees allegedly act as collectors in Minnesota but are not currently registered with the Commerce Department.
Failed to provide proper notice to Minnesota debtors. Accretive is a collection agency under Minnesota law. It became licensed with the Department of Commerce on January 20, 2011, listing “Medical Financial Solutions” as an assumed name. Accretive sent debt collection notices to Minnesota patients that do not comply with state law that requires the company to disclose that it is a collection agency licensed by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Used false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of debts in violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. Accretive allegedly violated this provision by telling Minnesota patients that, if they do not settle with it, their debt may be referred to a collection agency when Accretive is, itself, a debt collection agency attempting to collect a debt.
Used unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect debts. Accretive has allegedly not complied with the prohibitions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Based on these allegations, Commissioner Rothman has ordered that Accretive shall:
Cease and desist from any further activity requiring a collector’s license in Minnesota for a period of at least twenty days from the effective date of the consent order, and continuing thereafter, until: a) The company provides at least ten days prior notice to the Commissioner of its intent to resume licensed collector activity; and b) The company files with the Commissioner an affidavit signed by an officer authorized by the company to sign on its behalf that Accretive is in compliance with Minnesota debt collection laws
Provide a copy of all letters and notices, including dunning notices or other communications, provided to debtors in their attempts to collect debts from Minnesota consumers
Provide its debt collector screening process to the Department
Provide all collector training materials
Provide all policies and procedures for protecting and safeguarding of consumers’ personal information
Provide any and all other documents requested by the Department
Consumers with complaints regarding Accretive Health, LLC or anyone with information regarding this matter are encouraged to contact the Commerce Department Consumer Help Line by phone at (651) 296-2488 or (800) 657-3602 or by email at email@example.com.
The Department of Commerce offers these helpful tips to help Minnesotans avoid becoming victims of debt collection scams:
Call us first. Do not send money to a “debt collector” you think may be perpetrating a fraud – call the Department of Commerce to see if the person is, in fact, a licensed debt collector.
Protect your identity. Do not give away or verify any of your personal financial information.
Protect your money. Ask your bank to put an “alert” on your account (often these scammers have a consumer’s bank account information before they begin harassing them).
Avoid phony calls. Be wary if the debt cannot be verified or if no documentation is received. At that point, ask the callers to stop contacting you and register with the National Do Not Call Registry at www.DoNotCall.gov or 888-382-1222.
Contest errors. If no debt is confirmed, contact any involved parties to clear up inaccuracies on your credit report, such as: the debt collector; the creditor or company claiming unresolved accounts; and the major credit bureaus. Write a detailed letter and include supporting documents to prove your case. The Federal Trade Commission provides additional resources for reporting errors.
Know your rights. Review the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which sets standards for collection agencies and prohibits abusive tactics. The FDCPA is enforced by the FTC and violations should be reported.
Know that debt collectors: a) May not make false or deceptive claims; b) Are not allowed to make idle threats, express or implied, or use abusive or profane language; c) Should not discuss consumers' accounts with unauthorized third parties; d) May not inaccurately report credit information or pressure consumers to pay debts they do not owe; and e)Must investigate the validity of a dispute over a debt.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Help Line can be reached by phone at (651) 296-2488 or (800) 657-3602. Complaints can also be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55101.