By Ryan Kath

BOSTON (CBS) – A lawn care company will pay refunds to thousands of customers for abusive and illegal debt collection practices, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General.

As part of a settlement, Shrewsbury-based The Lawn Company (TLC) will fork over about $143,000 in restitution to about 5,500 affected consumers, along with $150,000 in fines.

The I-Team first interviewed TLC customers in 2014, who claimed they continued to receive bills after they had already cancelled their service.

Amesbury homeowner Angela Robinson was one of nearly 2 million people who received marketing material in the mail, promoting TLC’s chemical lawn treatments. After a few appointments, she decided to cancel the service.

lawn I Team: Thousands Of Customers Will Get Refunds Over Lawn Company’s Harassing Debt Collection

Worker from Shrewsbury-based The Lawn Company (WBZ-TV)

However, another bill showed up, which Robinson refused to pay. The next thing she knew, letters from a debt collector arrived, followed by a summons to appear in small claims court.

“If you don’t owe somebody something and they are trying to charge you, you have to fight,” Robinson told WBZ.

It turned out Robinson was one of more than 1,600 people that TLC pursued for small claims actions in Westborough District Court. For many of the consumers, included 200 out-of-state residents, that was not the district where they lived nor where they signed the original sales contract.

“It’s outrageous and unacceptable. That’s why we investigated and brought this action,” Attorney General Maura Healey told the I-Team. “It was wrong for people to be charged illegally with hidden fees. And then it was wrong for the company to aggressively harass them and take them to court for illegal debts.”

As part of the settlement, TLC has agreed to help consumers repair damaged credit reports and make sure judgments are vacated from public records.

tlc I Team: Thousands Of Customers Will Get Refunds Over Lawn Company’s Harassing Debt Collection

Shrewsbury-based The Lawn Company (WBZ-TV)

The company must also provide adequate disclosure to customers about any automatic renewal provisions in sales contracts.

Restitution to consumers will be distributed by a third-party administrator, which can be contacted at 860-623-0004.

Healey encourages people with questions or concerns about deceptive or abusive debt collection practices to call the consumer hotline at 617-727-8400 or file a complaint online.

“Generally, when one person is hurt, we look into it and see that a lot of people were hurt,” the AG said.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

 

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