Woman in lawsuit says Norfolk debt collector robocalled her 1,500 times

NORFOLK — A woman is suing a Norfolk debt collector after the company allegedly “robocalled” her more than 1,500 times.

Melinda Howard said that over the last four years Portfolio Recover Associates LLC used prerecorded voice technology — or robocalling — to bombard her with calls to her cellphone in an effort to collect debt she accrued on a credit card, according to a complaint filed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia.

Online Portfolio Recovery Associates describes itself as “one of the nation’s largest debt collectors” that focuses on providing customers with “solutions for resolving their debt.”

Company spokeswoman Nancy Porter declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Portfolio Recovery Associates first called Melinda Howard on her cellphone on Feb. 1, 2014. When she answered, she “explained that she felt harassed by all of the calls and demanded that [the company] stop calling her,” according to the complaint.

The company continued to call Melinda Howard’s cellphone more than 1,500 times after she told them to stop, the complaint alleges.

According to the complaint, 3.8 million people complained about robocalling to the Federal Trade Commission in 2016.

According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, it is illegal for a company to use a prerecorded system to call a person’s cellphone, or any other phone line in which the customer has to pay to make and receive calls.

There are a few exceptions for legal robocalling, including during emergencies or when a person has given express consent for a company to continue calling them, according to the law.

Melinda Howard’s attorney, Billy Howard of the Consumer Protection Firm in Tampa, Florida, said that the Federal Communications Commission has long tried to interpret what “express consent” means in terms of robocalling. Some of that discussion has centered around the signing of legal documents — like the type used when taking out a loan — might be consent enough for a company to robocall.

Billy Howard plans to argue that because Melinda Howard asked Portfolio Recovery Associates to stop calling her, it stripped them of consent to continue doing so.

“Portfolio Recovery Associates is one of the biggest robo-bullies on the block and we are glad to have the opportunity to bring them to justice,” Billy Howard wrote in an email.

Melinda Howard isn’t the only person who has taken issue with the way Portfolio Recovery Associates attempts to collect debt, according to the Better Business Bureau.

More than 1,300 people have filed complaints against Portfolio Recovery Associates with the Better Business Bureau. More than 1,200 of those complaints were in regards to billing and collection issues, according to its website.

Send news tips to adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.