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New agency to bite back at barking debt collectors

Monday, December 17, 2012

Right now, debt collectors are pursuing 30 million Americans, and some of their tactics may be going too far. But a new watchdog agency is beginning to crack down on that.

Bill collectors sometimes call Kevin Lynn's house up to 20 times a day. And get this, the debt isn't even his.

The Federal Trade Commission says it's gotten more than 150,000 complaints about debt collectors last year. That's more than any other industry.

"Some of our number one sources of complaints for consumers are for harassment and abuse -- calling too often, using profanity, making violent or abusive threats," said Chris Koegel with the FTC.

To crack down, a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, is going to start policing some of the largest collection agencies in the country.

How bad can some companies' tactics get?

Attorneys representing consumers say bill collectors have left people threatening voice messages like these: "I'm going ahead with a warrant for your arrest," and, "You will be behind bars for six months. And once you go behind the bars you may lose your job."

In this FTC lawsuit filed against one bill collector, a grieving mother said she was asked how she would feel if the funeral home dug up her son's body and "dropped it outside my house because I hadn't paid my debt."

Pat Morris with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals says it wants those using abusive tactics weeded out so others can do the job right.

"Don't shoot the messenger. We're here doing our job. We're here respecting laws and regulations, and we treat consumers with respect," Morris said.

The CFPB will have new authority to make sure large collection firms are not harassing or deceiving consumers into paying debt and are using accurate data to pursue debts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new authority starts January 2. If you need information on what your rights are or how to file a complaint, you can check out the agency's fact sheet.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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