AG Secures $1 Million for Consumers Exploited by Largest Debt Collection Law Firm in Massachusetts
Law Firm Filed More Than 200,000 Lawsuits, Many for Inaccurate or Unsubstantiated Debts
BOSTON – The largest debt collection law firm in Massachusetts and its two owners have agreed to pay $1 million in restitution and significantly change their practices after Attorney General Maura Healey took action against them for widespread consumer abuses impacting thousands of Massachusetts consumers.
A consent judgment file size 5MB – entered against Lustig, Glaser & Wilson, P.C. (Lustig) and its two principals, Ronald E. Lustig and Kenneth C. Wilson – resolves allegations they routinely sued consumers for debts they did not owe or debts that were inaccurate, and consistently violated state law and abused the court system in their pursuit of debts.
“This firm has clogged our court system with more than 200,000 lawsuits against Massachusetts residents. In case after case, the firm has used faulty or inaccurate information to intimidate people into making payments,” AG Healey said. “We will not stand by while debt collectors exploit consumers and demand money that doesn’t belong to them. This settlement will make the business of debt collection fairer and more transparent for the people of Massachusetts.”
“For low-income families, breaking the cycle of poverty is complex enough without getting harassed for unsubstantiated debt,” said Ruthie Liberman, Vice President of Public Policy at EMPath. “It can be a barrier to landing a job or finding an apartment. Our thanks to the Attorney General for looking out for them.”
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, Lustig has paid $1 million to the AG’s Office that will provide restitution to potentially thousands of Massachusetts consumers, including those who were on social security and other exempt income who paid Lustig, despite proving that their income was exempt from court-ordered collection.
Lustig has also significantly changed its debt collection practices as a result of this settlement, including the following:
- Protect consumers on exempt income: Lustig is now required to disclose to consumers that certain income is exempt and will cease collection if the consumer is elderly or disabled and relies solely on exempt income. These protections also extend to consumers who are experiencing a financial hardship, such as earning wages below a certain threshold or receiving unemployment benefits.
- Prohibit collection of debts without proof: Lustig must now obtain documentation and verify the accuracy of a consumer’s debt before attempting to collect. Lustig cannot rely solely on spreadsheets as a basis to sue consumers – a practice that was commonplace at the firm previously.
- Require review by an attorney: Lustig is barred from suing any consumer for a debt unless an attorney has meaningfully reviewed appropriate documentation and determined that there is sufficient evidence to support its claims. Lustig must stop filing affidavits signed without personal knowledge.
- Stop misuse of collection lawsuits: Lustig cannot use court processes, such as payment review hearings and civil arrest warrants, to apply pressure and intimidate consumers who have no ability to pay the debt or are living on exempt income.
- Respond appropriately to consumer disputes: Lustig must cease collection unless it investigates the dispute and provides consumers proof of the debt.
The AG’s Office filed a lawsuit against Lustig and its two owners in 2015, alleging that beginning in 2011, Lustig filed tens of thousands debt collection lawsuits annually in Massachusetts, based largely on unsubstantiated and often inaccurate debts owned by national debt buyers. Many of these lawsuits were filed against consumers whose only source of income was social security or other types of income that were legally exempt from court-ordered payment.
The complaint alleged that to make their practice possible, Lustig allegedly relied on simple spreadsheets provided by national debt buyers, which allowed them to process up to thousands of consumer accounts for collection and litigation in a single day, all while knowing that the information was often inaccurate and unverified. The AG’s Office alleged that Lustig also filed deceptive lawsuits against consumers, used false and misleading court filings, and demanded payment of time-barred or dismissed debts.
AG Healey’s Office regularly receives consumer complaints about debt collection abuses and has taken legal action against a number of debt collectors.
Earlier this month, the AG’s Office sued a Lowell debt collection attorney and was granted an injunction barring him from threatening consumers with arrest or imprisonment for nonpayment of small debts. In September 2016, the AG’s Office announced that Ditech Financial, LLC, a national mortgage servicer, paid $1.4 million and agreed to strengthen its policies over its alleged abusive debt collection practices that affected more than 5,000 borrower accounts in Massachusetts.
The AG’s Office is committed to combatting abusive debt collection practices. Consumers who have been impacted by Lustig or who have questions or concerns about such practices can call the Attorney General’s consumer hotline at 617-727-8400 or file a complaint with the office.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Peter Downing and Benjamin Golden, Legal Analyst Sarah Petrie, and Division Chief Max Weinstein, all of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division, Investigators Anthony Crespi, Shannon Roark, and Colleen Frost of the AG’s Civil Investigations Division, and Maja Kazmierczak, Cornelio Lozada and James McAdam the Consumer Advocacy and Response Division’s Debt Collection team.