With a record number of Americans in debt, consumers are also reporting a record number of abusive phone calls from debt collectors. Many of those harassed, however, are unaware of their rights under the law, according to former debt collector Mike Flannagan. Flannagan, who quit the industry in disgust, said, "The debtors’ ignorance is the best weapon we’ll have in collections." The federal Fair Debt Collections Practice Act protects consumers from harassment and contains specific regulations that debt collectors must follow. For example, under the FDCPA, a debt collector cannot call a consumer at inconvenient times or places and cannot threaten violence or use profane language.
Listen to actual calls and read the transcripts of debt collectors ignoring the rules. (Audio recordings are courtesy of John Fugate) Collectors also cannot threaten consumers that they will be arrested if they do not pay their debt. Collectors cannot report a person’s debt to outside parties. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.
Consumers can stop a debt collector from contacting them by sending a cease and desist letter to the collector. Experts say such letters should always be sent by certified mail. After that the debt collector is only allowed to contact a consumer if a specific action, like a lawsuit, is being taken against the consumer. If a consumer disputes whether the debt is even owed, the collection agency can only resume collection activities, including telephone calls, if it provides valid proof that the consumer does actually owe the debt. Consumers have the right to sue debt collectors for damages in state or federal court if they believe the law was violated. Click here for a list of debt collector do’s and don’ts. Ultimately, Michael Flannagan says the best defense against an abusive collector is to secretly tape your phone calls if it is legal to do so in your state. Otherwise, Flannagan says simply telling a collector that you plan to tape the call is often enough to stop the abuse. "If I know that I’m being recorded," said Flannagan, "an intelligent collector will continue the conversation, but with a lot more ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s’ and no implied threats." Rozanne Andersen of ACA International, the trade group for the collection industry, says abusive collectors are rare and that most follow the law . According to Anderson, "A debt collector is not the enemy of the consumer. His or her job is to help find a solution and help the person figure out a way to pay the debt." The above picture is an industry photo.