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When collection turns into harassment

Dear Steve,

I have one claim against me. Collection agency "A" sends me a demand letter. I send back my dispute notice. That agency then sells my account to Collection Agency "B" which restarts the whole pattern again. Every six months I have to stop what I'm doing to reply to a new collection agency. When is a "no" a "no"? Why do I have to keep sending out letters? It has been over four years and I've sent seven letters. The claim is for $40. I've spent $10 responding. When does it become harassment?

FYI, I have contacted my state attorney general. Their response now is that I have to file a new complaint against each new agency even though the agencies keep swapping the same claim. I have no doubt the collection agencies feel that if they harass me enough I will eventually pay (this latest agency called me three times in a four-hour period). I've dug in my heels. I will never pay this wrongful debt. -- Pat



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Dear Pat,
So far, all the things you have been doing are the right ones. The problem is that the guys on the receiving end aren't listening. At first I thought that you could get some relief by going back to the original creditor, but if the debt has been sold and after four years you're still fighting it, I doubt that you'd have any luck.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act affords you the right to dispute the debt. And you have done that in writing; and many times, to no avail. Your attempt to get the attorney general involved was sound, but didn't work either. So, here's my suggested course of action. The next time you get a phone call from the collector, be sure to get all of their contact information -- name of collector, company, address, etc. If it's a letter, the information probably will be on it.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This agency enforces the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FTC may be contacted by mail at Consumer Response Center, Washington, D.C., 20580-0001, or by telephone at (877)-FTC-HELP, or online at www.ftc.gov. Although they don't respond to individual cases, yours might help identify a pattern on which they might follow up. The real benefit to you may be when you send the collector a copy of your complaint and he has to bring it to his boss's attention, the company might reconsider harassing you.

The other thing I would suggest is that you get an attorney to help. There are two approaches you may want to try: First, I know that for $40 you can't afford much of a defense, but there are class action attorneys out there who look for patterns of abuse, rather than the size of an individual case, and might have an interest in your case without charging you. Second, if the big guns aren't interested in your case, you might try the Legal Aid Society or your neighborhood Legal Assistance Office. The phone numbers for the local Legal Assistance Office are usually found in the white pages of your local telephone directory.

For my readers who may not be aware, you have the right to dispute a debt collection in writing within 30 days of the first notice by mail or phone. The collector, by law, must then stop any collection processes and verify the debt. If the debt is verified, the collector must mail to you the documents verifying the debt.

Good luck!

The Debt Adviser, Steve Bucci, is the president of Money Management International Financial Education Foundation. Visit MMI for additional debt advice or click here to ask a debt question.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: July 8, 2005
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