Debt Collection – “Can They Really Treat Me This Way?”

by John Skiba
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iStock_000021118770SmallDay in and day out for nearly 11 years I have met with families who are going through financial difficulties. Something that may be surprising, and a little disconcerting, is that there isn’t a certain “type” of person or certain career paths that lead to financial hardship.

I have consistently met with people who are smarter than me and made more money that I will likely ever make who are dealing with a complete crisis when it comes to their money and debt problems.  I often leave consultations realizing that debt problems can truly happen to anyone.

And when debt problems arise the debt collectors are soon to follow.

Tactics of the Debt Collectors

Debt collectors have an obvious goal – to get you to give them money.  But this is not an easy task as often the people they are calling are not paying for the simple reason that they don’t have the money to pay.  No money, no payment.

So the debt collectors have to be creative.  They have to put pressure on you to pay.  They do this through what FDCPA attorney Pete Barry refers to as the “FUD Principle”.  They create Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

Most people have not been through the debt collection process before.  Usually there is some life event – a failed business, serious medical problems, or other family problems that results in people not being able to pay all of their debts.

And because most are rookies when it comes to dealing with debt problems debt collectors can use that to their advantage by misrepresenting what they can actually do to you.

I am surprised at how many of the people I meet with are truly concerned that they are going to go to jail for not paying their credit card.  Debtors prisons haven’t existed since Andrew Jackson was president (1833).

The truth of it is that unsecured creditors like credit cards, medical bills, and most consumer debts can’t really do much of anything unless they take you to court and sue you.  They can’t put you in jail, and unless they have sued you and have a judgment against you they can’t even garnish your wages or levy your bank account.

But they know that most aren’t aware of that.  And they use that uncertainty and fear you have as leverage to pressure you into make payment.

“Can They Really Treat Me This Way?”

But many debt collectors take things too far.  I routinely hear of debt collectors harassing people with endless collection calls, calling their employer or other family members, swearing, yelling, threatening to put them in jail, in their attempts to collect on a debt.

By using these tactics the debt collectors are violating the law.  The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides a set of rules as to what debt collectors can and can’t do when trying to get you to pay them money.  And while there is a long list of the do’s and don’ts it all really boils down to four questions:

Was the Debt Collection Conduct -

  • Unfair?
  • Untrue?
  • Undignified?
  • Disrespectful?

If the conduct of the debt collector falls into any of these four categories then it is likely a violation of the FDCPA.  If they have violated the FDCPA you have the right to sue that debt collector to get them to stop.

What Can the FDCPA Do?

First of all, it can make the harassment stop.  The never-ending phone calls and the abuse will stop.  Next, the law provides that the debt collector has to pay you $1,000 and pay for all of your attorney’s fees and costs.  Finally, if you have suffered other damages from the abusive tactics of the debt collector you can be compensated for that.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© John Skiba, Arizona Consumer Law Group, PLC | Attorney Advertising

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