Unscrupulous Debt Collectors Unplugged by Fair Debt Act
“They just keep calling.”
“I feel like a criminal.”
In recent years, unscrupulous debt collectors have become much more aggressive in their collection tactics and efforts. Oftentimes, it is not the original owner of the debt – who may be more willing to work with consumers on payment plans or other alternatives – rather, it is third party debt collectors, who buy the debt for collection, that cross the line. These debt buyers’ businesses and jobs depend on the collector’s ability to collect on the debt, the time in which it takes for collection, and the amount collected. Coupled with the recent economic environment, this has led to more aggressive behavior and more panic for consumers.
Fortunately for consumers, North Carolina enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (N.C. G.S. § 58-70-1, et seq.) to allow consumers to fight back. This Act makes it illegal, in certain instances, for debt collectors to oppress, harass abuse, threaten, or engage in deceptive, fraudulent or misleading representation in attempting to collect a debt, amongst other prohibitions. This means that a debt collector may violate the act if he/she uses profane, obscene or abusive language; calls over and over; calls at times other than normal waking hours; or calls someone’s workplace (if they have been told not to do so). It is also forbidden for a debt collector to lie concerning the amount of a debt owed, their affiliation with any government agency, or that non-payment may result in arrest. A debt collector also cannot make or threaten false accusations, including notification to a credit reporting agency, that a consumer has not paid, or has willfully refused to pay a debt.
The penalties for an unscrupulous debt collector are equally severe. A debt collector who is found to have violated the act may be held liable for the amount of actual damages suffered by the consumer, in addition to statutory damages of between $500.00 and $4,000.00 for each violation, punitive damages, and the consumer’s attorneys’ fees.
If you get contacted by an unsavory debt collector, here are some tips that may prove helpful:
Get proof of the debt. You should make sure that you owe the money and that the collection agency, or their client, actually owns the debt. Also, ensure that the debt is still collectible and that the time allowed by law to collect on the debt has not expired. Some documents you may want the debt collector to send you include verification of the debt, including the name of the original creditor, the name and contact information for the collection agency, the original consumer account number, an itemized account showing the amount of the debt owed, the date of the original debt, when and how the debt was transferred (if applicable), and a copy of the contract or other document evidencing the debt.
Document The Debt Collector’s Words and Actions. It is a good idea to keep and maintain a detailed record of what the debt collector says and does, especially for any bad acts. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better off you will be down the road.
Be Careful What You Say. Anything you say can and will be used against you. The Fair Debt Act provides that debt collectors must identify themselves, let you know that they are attempting to collect a debt, and warn you that anything you say to them is fair game. Debt collectors will try to get as much information out of you as possible. They want to be able to track you and your finances. You may not need to provide your social security number or any financial information. If you are ready and able to pay the debt, be it through a payment plan or otherwise, make sure that you can afford what you agree to pay. Never promise a payment you can’t make. Know your rights. If you legitimately owe the debt and refuse to pay, a lawsuit may be brought against you to collect the debt. You can’t, however, be sent to prison because you can’t pay.
If you think your rights were violated during the collection of a debt, don’t be afraid to fight back.
You can contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), the State Attorney General for North Carolina (www.ncdoj.gov), or you may be able to file a lawsuit against the debt collector for their bad acts.