GC Services came out of nowhere with a government contract to collect unpaid traffic tickets and the fines associated with them for Los Angeles county. This collection agency operates in much the same way as the others: collecting debt via dunning letters, phone calls, and credit report entries. I'm not concerned with GC Services' collection policies when it comes to retail debt. In that category they're just like any other debt collector. It's their government affiliation that bothers me.
Where Federal Law Gets Murky
Guess what? If you don't pay your traffic ticket, miss your court date but want to simply pay the thing and get it over with you can't just walk up to the clerk's office to pay the ticket. You have to deal with a GC Services representative. The court makes it easy for you by giving the collection agency its own window in the courthouse!
I'm floored by this. Honestly floored. According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the following behavior is prohibited:
"The false representation or implication that the debt
collector is vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with
the United States or any State, including the use of any
badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof."
And giving GC Services a booth in the Los Angeles county courthouse sends what message, exactly? Granted, this particular collection agency is obviously affiliated with the state of California (however tenuous that affiliation may be), but giving GC Services its own window and giving collection agents the ability to schedule court dates is confusing to debtors. They believe their state government and the collection agency are one in the same. This leads them to believe whatever the collection agent at the window or over the phone tells them – even if the information is inaccurate. We have statutes specifically to prevent this, yet its happening.
Wait, it gets worse. I have been informed that some consumers have been told by collection agency representatives that they have no other option but to pay off their traffic tickets and the resulting fines immediately. That isn't true. You can still contest a California traffic ticket after you miss your court date. You have the right to request a new court date and either fight the ticket or ask that the court reduce your fine....but there's no guarantee that a government collection agency responsible for collecting ticket fines is going to tell you that. Lets see what the FDCPA says..
"The use of any false representation or deceptive means
to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain
information concerning a consumer"
Telling you that you can't have a court date when you can in order to procure payment is pretty deceptive, don't you think?
Paying the Traffic Ticket
Don't expect to be able to swing a deal with GC Services like you can with almost any other collection agency. They demand payment in full and your partial payments won't be accepted. This policy isn't restricted to unpaid Los Angeles parking tickets, but extends to all debts the company purchases.
From a financial standpoint, not accepting partial payments doesn't make much sense unless the company does accept partial payments and uses its "policy" as a scare tactic to bloat the importance of that particular debt. From what I can gather, the company will accept partial payments after a whole lot of haranguing, but in a few months they may just call you back demanding the full amount again.
Word to the wise: If you talk GC Services into a settlement at any point (and this applies to you retail customers. I highly doubt they can or will settle a traffic ticket) get it in writing.
Evidence of GC Services Violating the FDCPA
During my web research, these are just a few of the FDCPA violations consumers claim GC Services committed. Take note, if this happens to you, each of these offenses are illegal and worthy of a lawsuit.
- Threatening immediate legal action with no intent to follow through on the threat
- Informing consumers that their debts do not have a "dispute period."
- Monitoring and recording telephone calls without notifying the consumer
- Harassing a debtor's neighbors with repeated telephone calls containing "messages" for the debtors
- Threatening to garnish a greater amount than federal law permits
- Lying about obtaining a wage garnishment order
I could go on, but I won't.
How to Fight GC Services
If you owe a fine to Los Angeles County then, by all means, pay your debt and get it over with. Don't wait until the account falls into collections. If you do, you may find yourself the victim of harassment and illegal activity as a result.
Short of filing a lawsuit (and if you've suffered an FDCPA violation and can prove it, you do have a case) there are several other things you can do to fight GC Services and help change the status quo in the process.
Write a letter to California's Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, detailing your experience with this and any other collection agency that violates federal consumer protection laws. You can file your complaint online with the State of California Department of Justice or write to Ms. Harris at:
Attorney General's Office
California Department of Justice
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
Disclaimer: I do not live in California and have never had personal dealings with GC Services. Any information in this post that does not directly pertain to federal law constitutes my opinion only.