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Debt collector horror stories -- page 2

Few consumers are aware of their rights, so they take whatever abuse a debt collector decides to dish out.

"They don't know better," Flannagan says.

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And many consumers feel so stressed out and demoralized that they keep right on taking the abuse.

"They think 'I didn't pay my bills so I deserve to be treated this awful way,' '' Fons says. "They don't know they can get help."

They don't know the law is on their side and they can fight back.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives consumers the power to strike back against abusive debt collectors.

The right to stop contact.
If you can't take it anymore, you can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector and telling them to stop.

It's a good idea to send the letter certified mail, so you'll have proof that the debt collector received it. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.

Will firing off a letter to debt collector that tells them to stop contacting you actually work? Will the threatening phone calls stop just like that?

"More than half the time, yes, because then you've made a paper trail," says Fons, who has handled debt collection cases for consumers for 15 years. "Some don't because they don't care. Some don't because they're disorganized."

Keep in mind that sending a letter to a collector will not make a debt go away if you owe the money. The debt collector or your original creditor may still sue you.

The right to dispute a debt.
Under the law, a debt collector must send you written notice telling you the amount of money you owe and the name of the creditor. If within 30 days of receiving this notice you send a debt collector a letter stating you do not owe the money, the debt collector may not contact you.

A collector may only renew collection activities if proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill, is sent to you.

The right to sue.
If a debt collector has violated the law, you have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney's fees also may be recovered. A group of people may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000 or 1 percent of the collector's net worth, whichever is less.

Bankrate.com has more details and tips on how to fight back against a debt collector. Whatever strategy you choose, it's important to get proof of any harassment.

"I tell people all the time, 'If you can't prove it, it didn't happen,''' Jarzombek says. "That's my line of lines."

If a debt collector is breaking the law and harassing you, you'll need evidence.

File all collection letters and keep detailed notes of collection calls. Note the day and time of each call, the name of the collection agency, the first and last name of the caller and what was said.

Make a tape of each collection phone call. Flicking on a tape recorder is a great way to swing back at an abusive debt collector.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia allow you to secretly tape your phone conversations.

In the other 15 states, you can tape with the other party's permission. And if you tell the debt collector you are going to tape and he or she keeps talking, that's considered giving permission.

"Just having that recorder on will keep a bill collector on the up and up," Flannagan says.

After contacting an attorney and learning about her rights, Angela M. started taping calls from debt collectors. She won't even talk to a debt collector if her tape recorder isn't going.

"Nine times out of 10 they say things they shouldn't," Angela says.

"If you don't have it taped, it's just your word against theirs."

Even with the aid of a tape recorder, going toe-to-toe with a debt collector is no easy task. These folks are experts at intimidation.

"It can be exhausting at first. It can be stressful when talking to people who are so mean and so brutal," Angela says.

"After awhile you feel like a crusader. You're out there and you' re not letting people get away with harassment."

She encourages other folks who are feeling harassed by debt collectors to fight back.

"Stand up to them," Angela says. "Look at it as you're standing up for the little people."


-- Posted: April 15, 2004




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