“The law says clearly you are not allowed to engage in telephone calls with a frequency that would show intent to annoy or harass a consumer,” says Dupre.
Despite that, debt collection companies will often engage in a telephone campaign. “The calls can range from 5 to 12 calls a day, 7 days a week, from morning to night. They use auto dialers and the calls just don’t stop,” he adds.
“I had one client who had 4,000 calls from a bank debt collector over the span of a year,” says Dupre. “The debt collector was trying to hide their illegal tactics and it took a court order to get the bank to produce the phone records and admit what they’d done.”
To make the calls stop, people borrow from family and friends or file for bankruptcy, when in fact, there are much better options if only the debt collectors would do what the law says they have to do and offer detailed payment options or take them to court.
Fast-talking, social media-savvy debt collectors
The law says that debt collectors are obligated to tell debtors that they can write a letter and tell the creditor to cease and desist from further calls. But a frequent tactic of the debt collector is to talk so fast that they the debtor can’t understand what they’re saying.
Debt collectors have also become very social media savvy. They often track people on Facebook or Twitter and start sending messages to them or their friends, family, or even neighbors. “I had one client who was estranged from their family. The debt collector began contacting relatives that my client hadn’t spoken to in years. Now, in addition to the debt collector hounding them, they were getting a violent reaction and threats from the estranged family members!” says Dupre.
“There are really strong consumer protection statutes, but unfortunately, not all consumers know their rights,” says Dupre. “They feel this moral sense of obligation to pay and they think that the creditor has this moral right to inflict this kind of abuse on them. They just don’t know that there’s a line the debt collector can’t cross and they have just crossed it.”
A psychological nightmare
Being harassed by debt collectors can be a life-altering experience that people never forgot even after they have disposed the debt. “These are people who are at one of the lowest points in their lives. It’s a place they never imagined they’d be. This is an event that they will never forget for the rest of their lives. They will be able to tell you date and time of when the calls occurred and the impact it has on them physically and psychologically,” says Dupre.
Dupre has been very successful over the last several years representing individuals who have been the target of illegal debt collection practices. They come into his office usually just looking for a way to get the phone calls stopped and are often pleasantly surprised to find out they can actual win financial damages. “They don’t look at it as a way to get money,” says Dupre. “They just want the conduct to stop. When I get an end to the calls and I am able to win damages, it’s usually a big surprise.”
This kind of litigation against debt collection agencies can take time warns Dupre. But when they actually get to court and his client starts to tell the litany of harassment they have been subjected to, the courts listen.
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Dupre has won significant amounts for many of his debt collector victim clients, including a substantial amount for that client who had 4,000 calls in one year from a debt collection agency. “It shouldn’t take a lawyer to see that these people’s rights are respected. Unfortunately, it seems to,” he says.
Ben Dupre’s practice focuses on illegal debt collection practices, credit problems that result from identity theft and bankruptcy law. His office is in San Jose, California.