A report released Tuesday by an economic-justice group said that Encore Capital Group, a debt collection giant based in San Diego, had the nation's highest number of complaints by consumers to federal regulators.
The group was Alliance for a Just Society, based in Washington, D.C. Its report analyzed consumer complaints made since 2013 to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created by the Dodd-Frank banking overhaul legislation in 2010.
A company spokeswoman said Encore has revised its practices over the last year. "We have continued to enhance and modify our consumer-centric programs, and as a result, we have seen drastic reductions in our consumer complaints," said Sheryl Wright, senior vice president for corporate affairs.
Encore was the subject of 4,684 complaints by consumers to the CFPB between July 7, 2013 and Aug. 7, 2015. The most common complaint, 42 percent of the total, involved "continued attempts to collect debt not owed," the alliance report said.
Other categories of complaints included unfair communication tactics such as frequent or repeated calls; and failures to provide enough information to verify debt or disclose that a contact was an attempt to collect.
Encore's total number of complaints was roughly double that of the next-highest recipient, PRA Group, the report said. Encore was said to be the nation's second-largest company that collects debts for third parties. The largest, Expert Global Solutions, had 1,463 complaints in the CFPB database, or roughly a third of Encore's total.
In its report, the alliance cited an Urban Institute study that said the average amount in collections was $5,178.
"Practices in the debt collection industry have implications for a surprisingly large share of the U.S. population," the report said. "According to the Urban Institute's 2014 study Delinquent Debt in America, roughly 77 million Americans, or 35 percent of adults with a credit file, have a report of debt in collections."
In September, Encore agreed to refund up to $42 million, pay $10 million in fines, and halt collection on $125 million in debts to settle a CFPB enforcement action.
Sponsored Video Stories from LifeZette
The agency also required an overhaul of many of the collection practices cited in the alliance report, which used data from the two years before Encore's settlement. Executives agreed to the settlement, although they criticized the agency's enforcement approach.
"After rigorously and thoroughly scrutinizing seemingly countless aspects of our business for more than a year, the CFPB ultimately identified only two key issues warranting consumer refunds," said Kenneth Vecchione, chief executive of Encore, in a prepared statement.
Encore has produced rapid growth in recent years by purchasing debt at discounts from other companies and then collecting from debtors.
The company reported revenue of $1.14 billion for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, an increase of about 10 percent from 2014, and up 214 percent over five years. It reported net income of $72.8 million, down 27 percent from $100 million a year earlier but up 68 percent over five years, according to data compiled by YCharts.
Alliance reported that Encore employs 5,400 people in 108 subsidiaries worldwide, including 27 units incorporated in Delaware and two in the Cayman Islands.
(c)2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.(c) The San Diego Union-Tribune