photo credit: dno1967
“If you get off the phone with me, that’s it. The sheriff will be there and he will come for your kids."
“You are totally ghetto…learn English; get an education instead of just sitting on your fat derriere all day long."
These are just samples of the tactics that some abusive debt collectors use to bully people. New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is trying to shut down one such collector whose employees have berated people as drunks and deadbeats, bullied them with threats of arrest and even threatened to sexually attack a debtor’s daughter. One collector allegedly told a woman he would pay the debt himself if the consumer and her husband would agree to have sex with him.
Cuomo has announced a lawsuit against the Benning-South Group for over 1,000 violations of state and federal law in New York alone. Cuomo spokesman Richard Bamberger said the office is working with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau, which have also received complaints.
Although Cuomo has succeeded in shutting down the fraudulent activities of a Buffalo-based collection racket, doing so is a challenge because such companies are slippery; they simply start another company under another name. Many list only PO Boxes as their addresses.
How to Deal with Abusive Debt Collectors
Of course, these activities are not limited to New York. The Federal Trade Commission received 45,000 complaints against debt collectors in the first six months of this year. What should you do if bullied by collectors? Here are some tips:
- Understand their tactics. Because collectors know that most of us will not think clearly when angry or afraid, they intentionally try to evoke these emotions. Remember: this is a trained ploy.
- Know your rights. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has a great publication entitled “Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers". This guide will explain what is legally allowable and what is off limits when a debt collector is calling you. Some of my favorites are:
- A debt collector cannot call you before 8 AM or after 9 PM in your time zone
- If told orally or in writing that you are not allowed to receive calls at work, he cannot contact you there.
- Within five days after the first contact with you, every collector must send you written “validation notice" detailing the name of the creditor, how much money you owe, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
- Harassment, lying and making threats are all off limits.
- Record the call. If your caller is breaking any laws, your proof could help put him out of business.
- Stay in control of your life. Assuming you actually owe the money, you should talk to the caller, but on your terms. For example, tell him that you will talk to him every two weeks but no more often. When he calls before the two weeks are up, you can either ignore the call (if you have caller ID) or you can simply answer and say, “Sorry, I will talk to you every two weeks as we agreed. Good bye." Then hang up.
- Prioritize your finances. Groceries, house payment, utilities and car payment always should be made before paying credit card debt. Don’t let any slick offers from the collector change those priorities.
- Get the collector out of your life by making a plan to pay him off. This may involve temporarily taking on a second job, working overtime, or offering a settlement if you have sufficient funds to do so.
What Stories do You Have?
While many collectors are totally legitimate, many break federal law every day. Please take time to share your story and how you resolved the problem. If you are in the middle of a horror story I invite you to share it also. We might be able to get you some help.