Home > Managing Debt > Debt Collector Left Consumers Hanging on Medical Bill Disputes, Says CFPB

Comments 1 Comment

A debt collector with ties to one of the nation’s largest private hospital chains spent years violating basic provisions of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, federal regulators say.

Consumers who dispute a debt are entitled to a response within 30 days, according to federal law. Medical debt collector Syndicated Office Systems took, on average, more than 90 days to respond to disputes, and in some cases, took more than a year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Syndicated Office Systems, which does business under the name Central Financial Control, is an “indirect subsidiary” of Conifer Health Solutions, the CFPB said. Conifer provides billing services to hundreds of hospitals nationwide; its parent company is Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which is one of the largest publicly traded hospital operators in the country.

“These violations are particularly egregious given the challenges many consumers already face who are attempting to navigate the medical debt maze,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are putting a stop to these illegal practices and getting consumers the relief they deserve.”

Consumers who complain about credit reports with Central Financial Control entries sometimes describe the firm as Tenet’s debt collection arm.

While the CFPB describes Syndicated/Central Financial as an “indirect subsidiary” of Conifer, reporters who call Central Financial Control are told to call or email Conifer’s senior director of communications, Sharon Lakes.

When asked to further explain the relationship between Syndicated, Conifer and Tenet, Lakes refused, other than to say it was inaccurate to call Central Financial the collection arm of Tenet. She said she wouldn’t answer any other questions, pointing to an emailed statement instead.

“Throughout the investigative process, CFC was forthcoming and responsive to all CFPB requests for access to data and other information relating to the company’s medical debt collection policies, procedures and processes,” the statement read. “The CFPB found no unfair, deceptive, abusive acts or collection practices in its investigation.”

According to the CFPB, Syndicated failed to respond in a timely fashion to 13,713 consumer disputes.

Consumers who believe they are being billed in error, or being dinged on their credit reports in error, have the right to file what’s called a “direct dispute” with the debt holder. Federal Law requires a timely response, including documentation of the debt.

Syndicated also failed to send required debt validation notices after initial contact with consumers more than 10,000 times, the CFPB said.

“Because the company furnishes information related to past-due medical debt, the information consumers seek to dispute or validate has the potential to lower credit scores,” the CFPB said. “Consumers spent time and money attempting to follow up on unresolved disputes and experienced distress and confusion due to the delays. The CFPB found that the company had no policies or procedures in place to investigate these consumer credit report disputes.”

To settle the allegations without admitting wrongdoing, Syndicated will refund consumers $5 million — including the value of every payment made when Syndicated failed to provide notice or answer disputes. It will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty.

Consumers should check their credit reports regularly to spot errors or other issues. You’re entitled to a free credit report every year from the three major credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com, updated every 14 days, to watch for important changes.

More on Managing Debt:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Kayla

    This company is doing this to me right now, I don’t know what to do. It isn’t even a real debt! I can’t afford a lawyer, I need help desperately.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team