Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

March 15, 2002 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced today that his Consumer Protection Division has entered into an agreement with The May Department Stores Company, doing business as Hecht's, regarding the company's debt collection practices.

The Division alleged that Hecht's had violated the Consumer Debt Collection Act and the Consumer Protection Act in its attempts to collect consumer debts. Hecht's denied that it committed any unfair or deceptive trade practices. However, under the terms of the agreement, Hecht's agreed that in attempting to collect a debt from a Maryland resident, it will not, among other actions:

• telephone a residence after being notified by the debtor that the debtor no longer resides at that residence;
• telephone a debtor at numbers other than those provided by the debtor, until Hecht's first tries to contact the debtor at those numbers without success and then tries to locate the debtor through directory assistance;
• write to an address other than that provided by the debtor unless Hecht's first tries to contact the debtor at that address without success and then tries to locate the debtor through the U.S. Postal Service;
• inform a debtor's employer of the employee's indebtedness before obtaining final judgment against the debtor;
• telephone frequently, at unusual hours, or in any other manner as to reasonably constitute harassment; or
• use obscene or abusive language in communicating with the debtor or person related to the debtor.

Hecht's also agreed that for the next five years, it will document each collection telephone call it has with debtors; send to delinquent customers, every four months, a notice with their billing statement advising them of an address to which they can send complaints regarding collection practices; and give the Consumer Protection Division a list of all consumers from whom the company received a collection complaint and what action was taken to investigate it.

Hecht's also agreed to pay the State $30,000 for costs.

"The law provides that consumers who owe debts have the right to be treated fairly and civilly," Attorney General Curran said. "Companies attempting to collect debts must abide by the law."

For the next year, Hecht's agreed to submit to arbitration all collection-related complaints against Hecht's that cannot be resolved by mediation by the Consumer Protection Division. Any consumer who wishes to file a complaint against Hecht's related to its collection practices should contact the Division at (410) 528-8662 or toll-free in Maryland 1-888-743-0023.