Being Harassed by Debt Collectors?

Sometimes, either through one’s own means, or through circumstances beyond their control, people find themselves getting behind on paying their bills.  Although debts should be paid, and the creditor has a right to the money owed them, there are cases where debt collectors go beyond reason and actually break the law.

One such example is a debt collection company in Texas, Goldman Schwartz.  An article from CNN Money states that the Federal Trade Commission shut them down a few weeks ago for using deceptive and abusive scare tactics to force people to pay their payday loan debts. Among the alleged offenses:  collectors called consumers incessantly, saying “we can take you to jail” or “we’ll send the sheriff’s department to your job and take care of this the hard way,” even though they had no legal basis to do so.  Collectors went so far as to tell consumers that when they go to jail, police or child protective services would take their minor children into government custody.  They also allegedly posed as a law firm or claimed to work with law enforcement authorities – even charging unauthorized attorney’s fees that it referred to as “juice”.  One anonymous consumer stated that they even called her workplace and told her coworkers that they were going to arrest her and her coworkers would have to pick her out of a lineup.

Another collection agency was fined $700,000 last month for tactics, such as threatening to dig up the bodies of the debtors’ deceased family members if the funeral bill wasn’t paid, and killing a debtor’s dog and then have the debtor arrested.

Some “collection agencies” are actually scam artists posing as collection agency staff.  They steal customer information from payday loan websites and then disguise themselves as debt collectors and go after the loans customers take out.  One such outfit actually collected $5.2 million in debts that were owed to payday loan companies.

So what do you do if you find yourself being harassed by a debt collector?  Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors are prohibited from threatening violence, using profane language, calling incessantly, inflating a debt and implying they are attorneys.  They also cannot tell customers they will arrest them or garnish their wages or property unless they actually plan to take that action and are legally able to do so through a court order.  If you are being harassed, contact the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs.

About the Author
Valerie, the Foundation's Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, is a certified public accountant and certified financial planner. She joined the Foundation in 2000 and has over 20 years' experience in the financial and estate planning fields. Valerie is responsible for investment oversight, estate planning, audit, tax, and account management.

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