Debt collectors buy outstanding debts, many of them questionable to begin with, for pennies on the dollar and proceed to launch a tirade against unsuspecting consumers. That’s what happened to Mey, a West Virginia woman who was berated with vitriol over the phone from a mean-spirited collector posing as a municipal official. The debt at the center of the call wasn’t even Mey’s to begin with, as the Wheeling woman is debt-free.
But rather than ignore the call or cower in a corner, Mey launched a debt collector lawsuit and was recently awarded more than $10 million in damages. She has yet to collect and may never, as most less-than-legitimate debt collectors are slippery and hard to pin down. They move a lot. But no matter. Mey, who describes herself to ABC News (8/7/13) as “an accidental activist,” continues to fight against needless bill collector harassment on behalf of countless Americans caught in the web of venom.
It was in 2010 that Mey received a telephone message purported to be from Reliant Financial Associates (RFA), a division of Global AG LLC, suggesting she could lose her home if she didn’t pay an outstanding debt.
First, making such a threat is illegal. Second, the debt wasn’t even Mey’s. Her response was to send a letter by registered mail to the collector directing them to cease and desist. Mey did exactly what experts suggest, and the receipt of such certified correspondence should have ended the matter right there.
Here’s why: the business of debt collection has become a clearing house of accounts. When a collection agency is unsuccessful at collecting a debt, they will often sell the account to another agency for pennies on the dollar. Such transactions occur often, and in this way an account can go through many hands. In so doing, information can become watered down. Addresses and phone numbers can change, names misspelled.
The result is bill collector harassment of the kind Diana Mey experienced. But this is where the law is supposed to help the harassed consumer. When a debt collector receives a cease-and-desist letter by registered mail, they are required by law to stop all collection efforts until they can absolutely verify the debt and the debtor. If they can’t, then they either sell off the account to someone else to deal with or close the file.
This did not happen in Mey’s case. According to ABC News, within 23 minutes of receiving the registered letter (verifiable thanks to postal receipts), someone at RFA had “spoofed” a call to appear in Mey’s caller ID as if it was coming from Mey’s local municipal government - in this case, the local sheriff. Mey later confirmed the call had not come from the sheriff’s office at all, but was an outside call made to appear as if it had originated locally.
In reality, the debt collector harassment to which Mey was subjected was cruel, vulgar and threatening.
The bill collector harassment frightened her. But she also took action, investigating other alleged complaints against RFA. She also recorded the telephone call, and used the audio as evidence in a bill collector lawsuit. When the defendant’s attorney failed to appear during court proceedings in August 2011, Mey testified unopposed and the judge awarded her $10,860,000. According to ABC News, the judge ruled RFA’s actions as “malicious” and held that all allegations against them were true.
Mey has yet to collect the windfall stemming from her debt collector lawsuit. RFA has moved its offices, changed its legal team and appear to be avoiding the issue.
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And Mey records all of her incoming calls, which she can legally do in her home state of West Virginia. Some states require that all parties to a call must give permission for a recording to be made. However in most states, so long as one party to the call gives permission, then the recording is legal. As one party to the call, Mey can grant herself permission to record the call without the need to advise the other participating party that the call is being recorded.
On her website, Mey links to a USB telephone gadget that records calls and can facilitate downloads to a computer for under $100. For anyone caught in the web of debt collector harassment, such evidence can be a welcome addition to a bill collector lawsuit.