7 On Your Side
How to report over the top debt collectors
There's one industry booming in these hard economic times -- the debt collection industry. Complaints about debt collectors top all others to the federal government. Most of the complaints are revolving around harassment by the bill collector. This is one case where what you don't know, can definitely hurt you.
Former Union City resident Tim Villafuerte enjoys a moment of calm with his family. It's a nice contrast to the endless phone calls he received for his car payments.
"They start calling me and harassing me on my home, my workplace, my father-in-law, my aunt," said Villafuerte.
He says debt collectors made nearly 450 calls to him in just a year and a half, and they didn't stop there.
"The issue was they were calling his neighbors and his family to embarrass him, to disgrace him, to humiliate him, and pressure him to repay a debt at a time when he just couldn't afford to," said attorney Ron Wilcox.
The Katherine & George Alexander pre-law center says 80 percent of its clients come in with collection harassment issues. That's twice as many than the University of Santa Clara Clinic saw before the recession.
"Creditors are being much more aggressive now about calling people and calling them frequently. As soon as the consumer is late maybe as much as seven days late on making their minimum payment," said Scott Mauer from the Alexander Community Law Center.
Stacey Davis of Santa Clara received her first phone call at 6:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving.
"I was thinking its Thanksgiving Day and I was trying to sleep in," said Davis.
Davis laughs about it now, but she wasn't when she received this call from a debt collector: "Miss Davis, this is Officer John France calling from a legal department. This case file will be going inside the court house tomorrow at 11 o'clock Eastern Standard time. Once this case file will be going inside the court house, you will be facing some hot and legal consequences and might be arrested."
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits calls made before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. A debt collector may not engage in any conduct to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.
"Most of the cases that say that as a matter of law this is harassment, focus on multiple calls in a day, but we have very little guidance from the courts about say how many calls in a week could constitute harassment," said Mauer.
Robert Tavelli represents the Association of Credit and Collections Professionals. He doesn't condone abusive behavior and says his industry gets a bad rap.
"Who causes that image problem? Five percent of the agencies that are out there doing it wrong or 95 percent that are doing it right?" asked Tavelli.
By law, you can stop harassing debt collection calls by putting your request in writing. Tim was able to wipe out his debt with the help of his attorney.
"It was a fair settlement and it was a relief," said Villafuerte.
Stacey found out she didn't even owe the debt the collector was asking for, she was being scammed.
"I was really surprised when Ron said it was a scam and there were scams like these," said Davis.
If a debt collector continues to harass you, even after you've asked in writing not to be bothered, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and state attorney general.
FCC, 7 on your side, michael finney
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