Unicredit America Inc. agreed Tuesday to stop sending letters to consumers threatening them with arrest if they failed to respond. Erie County Judge Michael Dunlavey also ordered the mock courtroom torn down within 30 days.
The state attorney general's office says Unicredit used people appearing to be sheriff's deputies to deliver hearing notices to consumers and used fake court proceedings to get money from them. Authorities say a person dressed in black would preside from behind a raised bench at the front of the room.
The state has also filed a civil suit against Unicredit alleging unfair trade practices. That suit seeks civil penalties for hundreds of affected consumers.
So to summarize, a company was impersonating law enforcement officials for debt collection. No, not just law enforcement officials, the law enforcement process. Fake sheriffs, fake courtrooms, the whole bit. Not for some kind of "Punked" reality TV show or something, but because honest means of squeezing money from people don't have sufficient return on investment. (Or maybe because they were crazy enough to believe that this flamboyant way of doing it would get good press. Or maybe for some other reason, but it's hard to imagine any reason that's OK.) Now that they've been found out, they're getting a slap on the wrist for it. Wow.