Rent-to-own business accused of strong-arm tactics, again

Rent-to-own business accused of strong-arm tactics, again »Play Video

LONGVIEW, Wash. - A local business that's previously been in the crosshairs of the KATU Problem Solvers is accused of more strong-arm tactics. The company is Aaron's, which has 20 stores that rent furniture, appliances, and eletronics in Oregon and southwest Washington.

In October, an Aaron's van pulled into Lissa Long's driveway in Longview, looking for furniture rented by her brother. Long told the Aaron's representative that she'd never had any of Aaron's furniture.

"'Just let me walk through your house' is what he kept saying," Long said. "If you really don't have the furniture, you'll let me walk through your house. You'll let me go see for myself."

Long said the man continued to come closer, backing her up toward her side door.

"I'm stepping back 'cause I don't like someone being that close to me," Long said. "Finally, when I got to about here, I wouldn't back up anymore. You are not stepping in my house."

Inside the house, Long's three daughters and newborn baby were waiting. Long said the conversation with the man went on for about an hour.

"If I hadn't stood my ground, (he) would have forced (his) way into my house," predicted Long.

An hour later, the man returned on foot without the van.

"I was probably about right here and all of a sudden he apppears out of the side of the car, out of nowhere and startles the dickens out of me," Long said.

Shaken, Long phoned the manager at the Longview store, who - Long says - called the man's tactics standard procedure.

A month later, it was deja vu. An Aaron's representative came to the door again, wanting to look for the missing furniture.

It's not the first time the KATU Problem Solvers have heard about aggressive collection tactics by Aaron's.

"I was scared to death, scared to death," repeated Superina Johnson, when the KATU Problem Solvers interviewed her two years ago.

Johnson recorded an Aaron's employee threatening to bring a gun to her home to collect a rented TV.

Here's part of that conversation:

"Let's just sneak over there, break into the house, climb through the window.  I've done it before.  Smash the window.  Open it up, slide in, grab the tv, and we're out.  Alright?  I'll dress in black. Wear my gloves.  I'll carry my .9-millimeters on me, just in case someone's in there.  I'll just pop 'em in the head.  No one is going to know."

After the Oregon Attorney General got Johnson's complaint and 35 others, the office went after Aaron's.

Finally, last February, NW Freedom Corp., the company that runs the local Aaron's stores, signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance without admitting any guilt.  In it, the company agreed not to use 32 different strong-arm tactics to recover property or debt, including:

  • Entering a home without permission
  • Using abusive language
  • Posing as a police officer
  • Threatening arrest or criminal prosecution.

While NW Freedom Corp. runs stores in Oregon and southwest Washington, it's headquartered in Gresham, meaning the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance order is only enforceable in Oregon.  So what does that mean for the Longview store?

According to Garet Hayes, Aaron's corporate spokeswoman:

"Once a month, the NW Freedom Corp. associates are asked to review and sign (the) guidelines on collections practices, which keeps these professional practices top of mind with each employee."

The KATU Problem Solvers repeatedly asked to see a printed copy of those guidelines, but Aaron's corporate office and the local franchisee refused. And they would not verify whether the employee in the Longview case ever signed a copy.
    
Two months after Long complained to Aaron's corporate offices in Atlanta, a regional manager offered her a $50 restaurant gift card and a promise to use the incident as a training opportunity.

"That's not good enough for me," insists Long.  "You need to use it as a dismissal opportunity, if you're going to have people working for you that behave like that."

NW Freedom Corp. says that it conducted its own internal investigation and found its associates conducted business in a professional and ethical manner.

The KATU Problem Solvers have filed a Freedom of Information request with the Washington Attorney General for the 70 complaints against Aaron's to determine if Long's case is an isolated incident or part of a systematic problem.  Stay tuned for an update.