I hate debt collection agencies. This distaste is mainly because of past personal experience. A few of years ago, a collection company called me repeatedly about a medical bill that my insurance company had already paid. I sent the proof of payment through fax and mail, but they refused to accept it.
I decided that enough was enough, and I finally stopped communicating with them on the phone. I was getting nowhere, so I kept any communication I had with them in writing. I know I’m not the only who has had problems with collection agencies, so I prepared some information for tackling this trying situation.
Tricks of the Trade
While not everyone working in the call center is a crook, there are too many horror stories about nasty collectors who threaten and harass you into sending them money. For example, CNN Money had a piece on previous debt collectors who shared their stories about the industry.
Here is a summary of some of the underhanded activities that went on:
- Admitting at times that he had to have a ‘black heart’ to survive, a collector threatened debtors and intimidated them to get payments.
- Contests at a particular collection agency to see who could get the most people to cry.
- A debt collector took advantage of debtors’ ignorance and identified himself as legal counsel, and would ask questions that they had the right to refuse to answer.
- Neighbors and family members were targeted to pressure the debtor to make payments.
There are plenty more stories, some much worse than what I highlighted, but you can see that you have to stay on your toes when working with debt collectors. If the debt is your responsibility, you should pay your debt off as quickly as you can.
However, you shouldn’t be bullied or intimidated by someone to handle your finances. Don’t be a victim; know your rights and how to handle them.
Your rights under the FDCPA
Your best protection with a collection agency harassing you is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Why was the FDCPA created? There was a study that found the following practices in its investigation of the debt collection industry:
There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.Source: FTC.gov
The FDCPA is there to help minimize this problem as the laws at the time didn’t cover the issues adequately. While there is a lot of material in the Act, I just want to highlight a few key provisions.
What’s allowed under FDCPA
- Reasonable hours for phone calls – Debt collectors can only call you between 8am and 9pm.
- Verification – You have the right notify the collection agency within 30 days that they need to verify the debt if you doubt their claim.
- Request no contact – You have the right to instruct them to cease contacting you by sending your request through certified mail with a return receipt. They can only contact you to confirm that they received your letter and/or if they are filing a lawsuit. The debt doesn’t go away, you’re still responsible for it, but they have to stop hassling you.
What’s not allowed under FDCPA:
- Harassment – They cannot use profane language, or repeatedly call you for the sole purpose of bullying or abusing you.
- False statements – They cannot misrepresent themselves (either as law enforcement or part of a credit reporting agency), give you a false amount of your debt, or claim that you’ve committed a crime.
- Invasion of privacy – While they may call your family to get contact information, they cannot speak to anyone but you and your lawyer about your debt.
- Peace at work – While they can call you at your place of employment, you can request in writing that the cease. If they continue calling you at your job, then they are violating FDCPA.
Talking with debt collectors
Working with a collection agency can be difficult, especially if they’re aggressive. Here are some things you need to keep in mind when working with debt collectors to protect yourself.
- Double check that it really is your debt. You’d be surprised at how some credit collector mistake you for someone else with the same name. You also want to check to see if you were a victim of identity theft with this debt.
- Never agree to a payment plan you can’t comfortably afford. Debt collectors want their money, they’re not thinking about how it affects your grocery bills or your rent. They will push you to pay the maximum they can get.
- Make sure they send you the payment plan in writing before you give them money. While many of us are honest people, but you can’t guarantee that the person on the other line is, too. Protect yourself and tell them that you need the paperwork first before you’ll send in a payment. Some may scream, yell, or argue with you, but you have to stand your ground on this.
- If all else fails, communicate only by certified mail. If they are being bullies with you, then keep all communications traceable. Contact your state’s Attorney General if they flagrantly violate your rights.
Your debt collector stories
I’ve heard some scary debt collection stories. I hope none of you have gone through the nightmare that some people had to deal with, but I know some of you probably have.
Have you been harassed by a collection agency? Were you ever bothered by a debt collector even though the debt wasn’t yours? How did you resolve the situation?