Recession, recession, recession. It seems as though you can’t even go to the grocery store without someone talking about the economy. If you are like millions of Americans, chances are you have been forced to cut back on paying bills, and perhaps one of those bills has even been sent to a collection agency.
Most people are forced to suffer in silence about debt in collections because it is not the usual dinner party conversation or even something that we tell our best friends. The subject can be embarrassing and humiliating which means that consumers do not speak up about how they have been treated or ask questions about what is fair or legal.
I own Dovco Collection Solutions, Inc., the collection agency dedicated to collecting on delinquent debt without abusing the consumer who owes the bill. I believe that consumers have a right to be informed about illegal collection agency practices and know what to do when they have been mistreated.
The first types of collection agencies were thought to have been managed by the mob and largely unregulated. In 1914, the Federal Trade Commission was put in place and sought to prevent the mistreatment of consumers by these agencies. Before this time collection agencies could threaten, steal and even publish a “blacklist” with consumer names. Even with the birth of the FTC, it wasn’t until 1977, when the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was adopted, that consumers began to truly be protected from harsh tactics and unethical treatment.
Per the FDCPA a collection agent cannot contact a consumer at any time other than between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the consumer’s local time zone. This means that if the collector calls from a collection agency located in New York to a consumer’s place of residency in California, they must wait until the clock strikes 8 a.m. in California, and phone calls may only continue until 9 p.m. in the consumer’s time zone.
One of the biggest complaints that consumers have is that a debt collector has contacted them at their place of business. Collection agents will attempt to contact a consumer using all the information that has been both provided to them by the original creditor and information found via a tool called skiptracing. For example, when a consumer visits the doctor and fills out the information form, contact information is requested. This can be home number, work number, cell number, emergency contact information and more. Every number listed is a potential contact for the consumer to be reached. If a collection agent is unable to reach the consumer at any of the provided phone numbers, they will employ various different types of resources. These can be the yellow pages, neighbors at the consumer’s current listed address, and even relatives.
They cannot, however, talk to anyone regarding your debt except you, your attorney or anyone you specify. Other than that, they cannot tell your child, your mother, your father, your sibling, your neighbor, your boss, not anyone. If they do, this is a violation of the FDCPA and you may be entitled to damages.
However, most people are not aware that the FDCPA has put a protection policy in place for these types of contacts. If a consumer indicates that a collection agent cannot call them at work, or that they are only allowed to call them at a specified location, the debt collector must comply. In addition, if a consumer does not want the collection agency to contact them at all, they also must comply. This is referred to a cease communication and can be invoked at any time. The consumer can request that the collection agent only contact them verbally, through written correspondence, or even not all. Although this will not stop occurrences such as credit reporting or even litigation, the collection agency will no longer be able to call or write demanding payment.
So what do you do when you have received a letter demanding payment or a phone call from a collection agent looking to get a bill paid? Talk to them, plain and simple. There are some who will rant and rave, trying to make you feel small for not having the money to pay your bill, or convince you that this one account will be your demise, but there are still some who are human beings. Ultimately, both of you have the same goal: to get the bill paid. The difference is how fast it will (or even can) be done. The majority of collection agents work off commission, so the more that is paid at one time, the bigger their commission check.
It is possible to negotiate with a debt collector so that the bill can be paid, weekly, bi-monthly, or even monthly so as to not leave you strapped for cash and unable to pay other bills. One of the biggest issues people face with paying off this type of debt is looking at it as a whole. If the debt is figured out in affordable payments, it can seem less ominous.
One of the biggest problems during this negotiation process is the way that a collector will try and convince you that the bill needs to be paid. The law states that a debt collector may not threaten action against a consumer, unless they plan to take it. This basically means that if a collection agent says they are going to sue you, they have to sue you. If they say they are going to put it on your credit report, they have to put it on your credit report. They cannot, however, threaten to tell anyone about the bill, inform your employer of the debt, or say that they are going to publish a list of any kind telling the public that you owe a debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act can be found online at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre27.pdf, and it contains the laws that debt collectors must adhere to when attempting to collect on a debt. If you feel that your rights have been violated, report the collection agent and collection agency to the district attorney in your state and to the Better Business Bureau.
But whatever you do, do not ignore the problem. Debt collectors are angered when their phone messages fall on deaf ears and their letters go unanswered. This way of dealing can result in credit reporting and even litigation. They are human beings, too. Just talk to them, and a payment plan can be negotiated. You may even be able to keep it off your credit report.
In addition to owning and operating Dovco Collection Solutions, Inc., Melissa Douros seeks to educate consumers on dealing with collection agents and collection agencies and stop the harassment that can occur. For more information on Dovco, please visit www.dovcocs.com.