The issue is especially relatable this time of year as consumers are in full shopping mode for the Yuletide season, with most putting their purchases on credit card. When those bills come in early in the New Year and consumers don’t have the ready cash available to make payment, that’s when debt collectors come into play. Sadly, debt collector harassment can be a part of that process.
Given the prevalence of bill collector harassment stemming from disreputable operators actively involved in account trades, together with a rise in debt collector lawsuits and increased public awareness, the BBB is weighing in to remind consumers that there is a right way and a wrong way to pursue a debt.
When a debt goes unpaid, the account holder has the right to attempt to collect that debt from the consumer, either directly or through a third-party agent such as a debt collection agency.
However, there are rules that need to be followed. It’s when these guidelines are ignored that harassment ensues, often resulting in a debt collector lawsuit.
In a story published in the Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania 12/3/13), the BBB wants consumers to know that debt collectors are not allowed, by law, to threaten you with arrest, inundate you with calls, or make attempts to contact your employer, your friends or other members of your family. They also are prevented from calling prior to 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
They are not allowed to threaten you with the possibility of having your wages garnished or threaten to bruise your reputation if you don’t pay.
What’s more, any consumer facing debt collector harassment can request in writing that collections stop. At the very least, says the BBB, the consumer has the right to ask the collector to provide written verification of the outstanding debt before collection attempts can continue.
That last point is an important one, given the horse trading that goes on between debt collection agencies. When a debt collector fails in their attempt(s) to collect a debt, the delinquent account will often be sold for pennies on the value of the debt to another agency. When this occurs, information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and other vital pieces of data can be misconstrued, and errors are passed along - and often made worse - with each transaction.
The result can be harassing calls to a consumer for debt they don’t owe, never owed, or has long since been repaid.
The BBB reports that over the last 10 years, complaints to the organization with regard to bill collector harassment have risen 58 percent. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the debt collection industry remains high on the list of industries against which consumers log regular complaints.
According to the Lebanon Daily News, a consortium of what were described as “rogue collectors” recently made various threats to consumers that included the closure of bank accounts, the garnishment of wages, the possibility of felony fraud charges and the requirement to attend court located thousands of miles from a consumer’s home. Some consumers were threatened with arrest at their place of employ.
READ MORE BILL COLLECTOR LEGAL NEWS
Debt collection is governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and according to the Lebanon Daily News, reforms to the Act and other debt collection laws are being explored by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in an effort to better protect consumers.
Until that happens, for a harassed consumer having been subject to bill collector harassment, the best defense is a good offense by launching a debt collector lawsuit. In so doing, you foster an action that most harassed consumers tend not to do. Unsavory debt collectors who stoop to harassment do so knowing that most consumers won’t retaliate. Those who do, simply refuse to let these purveyors of fear and greed get away with it…