It seems we’re seeing more stories about unethical and illegal practices of debt collectors these days. The aggressive nature of many of these people has led them to buck the laws, specifically, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Consumer rights have definitely taken a back seat. And if you think the horror stories can’t be that bad, think again. We’re pretty sure we’re going to see some of these behaviors in the next horror film on the big screen because many of these people have definitely crossed the line and made lives a true horror story for consumers.
There’s the story of the young woman who was horrified to find a Facebook wall post from a debt collector looking to repossess her father’s car. Both she and her father sued – and won. Then there’s the story of the brutal texts being sent by a debt collector to a woman who was struggling to keep up her own car payments. The texts included vulgar expletives, threats, wishes she would “just die” and a host of other unkind and downright hateful messages. She also sued. She also won.
So, with these stories becoming far too common, we thought we’d refresh our own memories and review the law that protects consumers from such poorly socialized folks who call themselves “debt collectors”. (No, we’re not suggesting all debt collectors are unethical or unprofessional. Like anything else, though, all it takes is a few rotten apples to sully the reputation of all).
One of the first regulations in the law includes the right of the consumer to refuse communication with a debt collector. That said, debt collectors also have the right to call your bluff. They can sue or they can contact your friends, neighbors or relatives. What they can’t do, however, is tell anyone but you that their goal is to collect a debt. Of course, unless those friends and family members are completely clueless, a debt collector will find a way to let them know why they’re searching for you.
They can’t say, “Tell Joe I’m calling because he owes three months payments on his Visa.” What they can say, however, is, “I have tried to contact Joe regarding a very important situation that requires his immediate attention.” If the debt collector calls Joe’s mom, her first question is going to be, “Oh my God. Is my son OK?”, to which the reply will be, “Oh, yes mam. I’m sure he is. This has nothing to do with his health. It’s a private matter I am not legally allowed to discuss with anyone but Joe.” So Mom knows Joe’s safe, but she also knows why the caller is contacting her, too. Odds are, the debt collector knows there are only two things mothers worry about: the safety of their children and the financial security of their children. Rule one out, and the rest is self-explanatory.
If a debt collector contacts you at work, you can request they not do so. And if you do, they must honor that request. But that also gives them more time to hound your friends and relatives.
A debit collector must also honor “any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer” by not attempting to contact that consumer during that time. A debt collector may not contact you between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. in whatever time zone that consumer resides in.
Also, a debt collector may not “engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt”. That means no hateful text messages and no Facebook postings on your friends or relatives’ walls. It’s illegal. In fact, there is specific wording in this section of the law:
The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person
That covers the brutal texts wishing the consumer would “just die” and it also covers the Facebook posts – in fact, it pretty much covers all of the social media efforts. Also, the use of profanity is considered abusive to the “hearer or reader”. The publication of consumers who have debts is prohibited as is the “advertisement to coerce payment of the debt” (again, that covers Facebook, Twitter MySpace and all the other social media sites). Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number (the hundreds of texts sent to that one consumer). These are just a few of the areas where debt collectors routinely “forget”.
While we vehemently oppose the efforts of some of the more aggressive debt collectors, we also encourage consumers to take financial responsibility for their debts. That’s easy enough to say, the truth is, though, things are tough still for millions of Americans who are struggling with job losses, financial ruin and a host of other economic pressures.
The best bet for those who simply can’t maintain their payments is to speak with their creditor before it gets to the stage of debt collectors. Generally, creditors try to avoid selling their debt, but frankly, they don’t have many options after payments fall more than a few months behind. It’s a better solution to keep it a two-part dilemma than bringing in a third party debt collector. If you’ve been harassed, file a complaint with the proper regulating body. It’s the only way these unscrupulous debt collectors can be stopped.
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