When Should You Contact an Attorney about a Debt Collector? Consumers Have Recourse If the Collection Agency Is Harassing and Abusive to Them

With many of the calls I get, people have kind of a wrong perception. They think that collectors can’t call on Sundays. Well, they can. They think that repeatedly calling you is a violation. It’s not. One of the types of violations is that the collector is taking action that’s harassing, oppressive, or abusive.

Harassing, oppressive, and abusive behavior could be many types of behavior. It could be them calling you a loser. It could be them saying you should commit suicide. In those cases, if you have a recording of them saying that, those cases are worth a fair amount of money.

One woman was threatened with that, and her father had just passed away. They said something such as you should commit your suicide and join your father. They were just unbelievable.

Here’s the funny thing. I actually have several clients that are debt collectors in real life. The collectors are not getting rich. The people who are calling you, they’re having financial problems, too. They have trouble paying their own debt, in many instances. So, they’re trying to get you to pay a bill, because their whole compensation system is set up to where they get rewarded for the money they bring in.

How Do You Recognize Misrepresentative Collection Activity?

Interviewer: How do collectors misrepresent things?

A Collection Agency Cannot Garnish Wages Prior to Obtaining a Judgment unless They Are a U.S. Student Loan Lender

Andrew Campbell: They misrepresent their power. For example, a lot of the complaints would be, oh, well, we’re going to garnish if you don’t pay us. Well, first of all, do they have a judgment? Oh, they don’t have a judgment. They didn’t go to a court and get a judgment. They can’t garnish you. Unless it’s a student loan lender from the U.S. who’s enforcing a U.S. government loan, they cannot garnish you without first going to court and getting a judgment against you. A large number of collectors will misrepresent that. That’s one violation.

Some Agencies Contact Relatives on the Pretext of Finding Your Location

Another violation is, they’ll call friends, family members, relatives and ask where you’re located. They can do that if they actually don’t know where you’re located. But, often, they know exactly where you are. They just want to extract social pressure and use that upon you to force you to pay your debt.

Interviewer: Are they allowed to disclose to other parties the nature of your debt? What are they allowed to tell other people?

Andrew Campbell: Here’s what they’re allowed to do. They’re allowed to call and say, hi, I’m calling to confirm or correct location information for Joe Doe. Do you know where Joe Doe’s home address is and his phone number at that address? Or, please confirm that Joe Schmo’s home address is XYZ and please confirm that their phone number is XYZ as well.

The Collection Agencies Are Prohibited from Telling Relatives the Purpose of the Call

That’s what they can say. Now, imagine being on the end of that call. At that point, the collector cannot say who they are. They just have to say, I’m sorry, I can’t answer that question. I’m prohibited from telling you that. I’m just here to confirm or correct location information for this person.

I get probably about fifty percent of my claims this way. Then the collector will say, well, if you see Joe Doe can you tell him to call 1-800-justpayyourbill, or something like that. So, then, they’re actually using a third party to collect the debt, and that’s prohibited, too, under the FDCP Act. They cannot use a third party to help them collect the debt.

If the Agency Obtains a Judgment, They Can Then Contact Your Employer but Are Prohibited from Calling Prior to That

Now, if they’ve got a judgment against a debtor, they can call the employer. They can call the employer to get the information necessary to file a garnishment. They can do that, but they cannot call the employer before they have a judgment. If they do and they’re speaking to a supervisor, they can often violate the law on that basis alone.

To Cease Collection Calls at Your Place of Employment, It Is Best to Notify the Agency in Writing

If you get a phone call at work, and your place of employment doesn’t allow you to receive personal calls, then what you need to do is immediately tell the collector, don’t call me at my place of employment. I cannot accept calls here. It’s against the rules. I would make sure you put that in writing, if you can, send it certified mail, return receipt, because that’s often violated as well.

The Federal Trade Commission oversees debt collectors, and now it’s the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The FTC does investigate and pursue compensation from debt collectors that have a large number of violations or who repeatedly engage in certain kinds of practices. That’s one of the biggest complaints from the FTC is calls at work.

Obviously, some kind of jobs, it’s assumed that you cannot get to the phone. You shouldn’t be calling a nursing home. I’m sorry. This person you’re calling is trying to take care of somebody who’s very sick and very old. No. They don’t have time to talk to you. There’s certain kind of industries where it’s implied.

Retail is another industry where really they shouldn’t be calling at all. This is because they should know you’re on the floor and you can’t get to the phone. Those are other kinds of violations.

Collectors Are Prohibited from Contacting People at an Unusual Time or Place That Would Be Inconvenient

Interviewer: What if the collector’s calling the workplace repeatedly, or if they’re just calling their friends and family repeatedly just to ask the same information?

Andrew Campbell: The first thing you have to do is you have to tell them—make it clear—I cannot accept calls at work. It’s prohibited here. Please don’t call me. Then, when you say that, you should also say, also it’s not convenient for me to receive calls at work.

One of the violations is that the collector cannot call you at any unusual time or place or time or place known or what should be known as inconvenient to the consumer.

If you tell them, look, don’t call me at work, it’s not convenient for me to receive calls here, and then they call again after being told that, they violate the law. It only needs to be once. But the best way to get them is to document it. It is always best to put it in writing and send them a letter, return receipt.

Interviewer: I’ve seen a lot of collection letters where there’s the company that’s owed money and then there’s the company that’s collecting on their behalf. Who do you send the letter to? And there could be the correspondence address and the payment address.

Andrew Campbell: Always send it to the correspondence address of the debt collector. The debt collector will send you a letter from them. It’ll have some kind of address. Send a letter certified mail to that address. Don’t contact the original creditor. That’s not going to help you. You need to deal with that debt collector.

Everything really should be in writing. The FDCPA 15 USC1692c3 prohibits calls at work if they are not allowed. They can’t call you at your place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication. That is typically violated.

Interviewer: What if they’re calling your friends and family looking for Joe Doe. What if they keep doing that, and the person says, I don’t know Joe Doe and don’t call here?

Relatives or Friends That Are Being Harassed by Debt Collectors Also Have Recourse

Andrew Campbell: The FDCP Act doesn’t just apply to people who owe money. It applies to anyone who deals with debt collectors. So, if a third party is repeatedly called, then they will have their own claim. Again, they’re not supposed to repeatedly call. They’re supposed to simply try to get the information.

If they can’t get the information, they’re not supposed to call back. It’s their burden to demonstrate that they had the right to make subsequent follow-up calls. That’s pretty hard to do. It’s a pretty tough test to meet.