Debt collector horror stories
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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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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,"
"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."