Seniors, the most vulnerable members of society, in that many live alone and are hampered by the onset of first-stage dementia, are more apt to respond to a threatening call, and pay money they can ill afford to pay for a debt they don’t even owe. The FTC views that as criminal, and, according to the Morning Call (Allentown, 11/3/13), is responding in diligent fashion. To that end, according to the Morning Call, a federal judge on October 21 issued a temporary restraining order against several businesses and individuals hailing from Atlanta, Cleveland and California, in an effort to stop them from applying bill collector harassment tactics to innocent consumers who either did not owe a debt at all, or at the very least did not owe the debt to the person from whom the call originated.
According to the Morning Call, one 83-year-old retiree from Allentown found the following message on her phone answering machine: “This is the civil investigations unit,” said the message. “We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you.” The debt collector harassment call, which was a recorded message, went on to suggest that the recipient had been named in a court action and faced a restraining order.
“I don’t know of anybody that I’m bothering,” the 83-year-old woman told the Morning Call. “Why would anybody have a restraining order?”
According to the report, this particular victim didn’t fall for the scam, in spite of being left scared by the phony call. However, according to the FTC, a sufficient number of consumers fell for the scheme and the perpetrators realized millions of dollars in profit.
The FTC, it is reported, logged almost 3,000 complaints about the debt collector harassment robocalls.
It is thought that consumer information gleaned from payday loan and other inquiries may have been purchased by the perpetrators in order to build a consumer database. The same kind of horse trading involving actual debt accounts often results in watered-down information and harassing calls to consumers who don’t owe a debt at all or may have long since paid the money back.
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Other consumers fed up with collection harassment will launch a debt collector lawsuit in response to various attempts by a collector on a bill that may or may not be owed, and the tactics used. For example, a collector can’t pose as a legal authority and threaten legal action.
That’s illegal. And that’s bill collector harassment at its worst. Current leadership in Washington is keen on further strengthening the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which has been on the books since the 1970s and in need of an update.