Debt Collector Owes Over $33K for Making Woman's Life 'Hell'

Jessica Burke sued her debt collector for harassing her over late car payments.

ByABC News
November 28, 2014, 8:59 AM

— -- A debt collector who uses the name “John Anderson” when making calls is now a debtor himself after a California woman sued him and the debt collection agency he worked for.

Anderson, whose real name and employer ABC News’ “20/20” has agreed not to divulge, said he’s “one of the best in the world” at his job. He said he follows the law, for the most part.

“[I] push the edges a little bit sometimes,” Anderson told “20/20.” “You’re not supposed to call after 9 o’clock at night. I might call at 9:15 [p.m.].”

But after a court judgment, Anderson currently owes over $33,000 to Jessica Burke, who said Anderson called her several times a day over $350 in late payments for a used car she bought in Arizona in 2007.

“He suggested that because he was a private investigator, he knows everything. He could find me no matter where I was,” Burke said. “He knew who I worked for, and he had contacted my boss at that time and released the information that I had a debt.”

Although she had never even seen the caller in person, Burke said he was even able to learn some of the names of her coworkers and friends.

Anderson denied harassing Burke. “I wasn't really the one pursuing Jessica. The finance company pursued her more than I did,” Anderson told “20/20.”

However, Anderson said he did get angry after he claims Burke got into a physical altercation with a woman he sent out to repossess the car, which Burke denies. Anderson also admitted that he did make remarks about Burke’s weight on the phone.

“She said, ‘I have a refund coming.’ I said, ‘A tax refund or a Jenny Craig refund?’ ... meaning that she was overweight,” Anderson said. “It’s probably not the proper thing to do.”

Richard Doane, president of the Debt Collection Trade Group, told “20/20” that most collectors scrupulously obey the law and provide an important public service.

“We’re not terrible people. The industry as a whole is a good thing,” Doane said. “We return $52 billion to the economy every year as an industry. That is a major amount of money.”

But Burke said the collector she dealt with wasn't so careful about following the rules and would text her constantly. She said she received around fifteen text messages a day, saying things such as, “Turn the car in or I send the sheriff,” and “Porky Pig, two hundred-pound slob in a double-wide.”

Anderson said that he never sent Burke those text messages, instead claiming that it was a “collections manager at that particular car lot.”

“[That’s] not in my vocabulary. That’s not something I would say,” Anderson said.

Even when Burke said she turned over the car to the finance company and repaid her debt, she said the collector would not stop tormenting her.

“I can’t tell you how many times I told him to stop,” Burke said. “There were times where I was crying on the phone, begging him to stop.”

Finally fed up with being harassed daily, Burke hired an attorney and learned her privacy rights and what she was entitled to as a debtor. She sued the debt collector and his agency for violating federal law by using abusive collection tactics.

“That person made my life hell for a little bit,” Burke said. “I was terrified for weeks.”

Anderson never appeared in court. On June 29, 2009, the federal judge awarded Burke over $33,000, but Anderson said he won’t pay.

“She’s not collected a dime. She never will,” Anderson said. “Because I don’t have it to pay her.”

Burke said she can’t be bothered to chase him for the money and is moving on.

“If I never see the money, that’s not really what matters to me,” Burke said. “I came out on top. I fought back. He can’t bother me anymore.”