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Debt Collector Harassment a Serious Problem

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Washington, DCA recently released report suggests that concern about debt collector harassment is widespread, and that some illegal bill collector practices are taking their toll on consumers. In response to growing anger over debt collector practices, in July 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began recording data regarding debt collection. The results were released in a report written by the US Public Interest Research Group. What they found was that debt collector complaints are quickly moving to the forefront.

According to the report, “Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints” (2/27/14), from July 2013, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) began recording data on debt collection practices, and January 16, 2014, the CFPB recorded more than 11,000 complaints about debt collection. Only one category, mortgages, had a higher average monthly complaint record.

The nature of the complaints varied, but more than 2,700 consumers complained that debt collectors were attempting to collect a debt that the consumer did not owe. This was the largest number of complaints about debt collection. Other frequently cited complaints were repeated calls, not being given enough information to verify the debt, the debt was already paid and an attempt to collect the wrong amount. Less frequently mentioned complaints included not being informed of the right to dispute the debt, talking about the debt to a third party, threatening legal action and being contacted after sending a no-contact request.

Among the companies cited most in the complaints, according to the report, were Encore Capital Group, Expert Global Solutions, Portfolio Recovery Associates and Citibank, although none of the companies listed received more than 1,000 complaints. The report noted that some companies provided relief (monetary or non-monetary) to complainants, but other companies did not provide any relief.

Meanwhile, the CFPB has also recorded complaints from service members and veterans. In a report titled “Complaints received from servicemembers, veterans, and their families,” Holly Patraeus, assistant director for the Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA), noted that the high volume of debt collection complaints made it a priority for the OSA.

Among the tactics used to force service members to pay debt are, “contacting a servicemember’s military chain of command, threatening punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, threatening to have a servicemember reduced in rank, or threatening to have a servicemember’s security clearance revoked.”

As with civilian complaints, debt collection complaints were second highest in military families, with mortgage complaints being first. Among debt collection complaints, attempting to collect on non-existent debts was the most frequently cited.

Lawsuits have been filed against debt collection companies accused of using illegal practices to collect on debts. These practices include using violent, harassing or intimidating language, repeatedly calling customers, and calling outside of allowed hours. Both state and federal laws protect consumers from such practices, although debt collection companies sometimes use illegal practices to intimidate consumers into paying debt.

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