An investigation was done jointly by NerdWallet, Raycom Media’s national investigative unit, and the Texas Tribune examined the business practices of Rent-A-Center, which is among the country’s largest rent-to-own retailers.

Reporters found customers who had been subjected to abusive behavior, intimidation, and threats of arrest by Rent-A-Center employees after getting behind on payments. Some said debts they had already settled with Rent-A-Center ended up following them years later, ruining their credit.

In some parts of the country, the company can use the law to turn a dispute over property into a criminal prosecution. As one attorney told reporters: “It’s just debt collection by the police.”