The new breed of predators

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2005

There’s a new predator out there stalking unsuspecting people, ready to pounce.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that an increasing number of consumers are complaining of abusive techniques that from companies that are part of a new breed of debt collectors.

Some of the tactics consumers have complained of include embarrassing phone calls are work, threats of jail and even violence.

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&uot;As the amount of consumer debt has risen over the years, so too has the number of these firms, growing from about a dozen firms in 1996 to more than 500 today,&uot; the Post reported.

According to the newspaper, these firms are known as debt buyers. They acquire unpaid bills from credit card companies and other credit providers at pennies on the dollar and then try to collect. In some cases going after bills so old that consumers can no longer be sued for them in court. One man reported of a threatening phone call received at home about a debt his daughter had incurred. And she had not lived at home in 15 years. The debt collector rattled the consumer by reciting his Social Security number and even his wife’s name.

That’s appalling conduct and we hope the Federal Trade Commission cracks down on these companies. But with the anti-debtor climate in Washington these days (the recently passed bankruptcy bill – apparently everyone is supposed to be responsible except the federal government) we wouldn’t count on much government help.

By understanding the rules of debt collection, however, consumers can protect their rights.

Karen Gross, a professor at New York Law School, told the Post the following tips consumers need to know:

nDebt collectors may not contact you at inconvenient times or places (such as work), unless you agree.

nCollectors may not use obscene language, threaten violence or falsely imply that you have committed a crime and could be arrested if the debt is not paid. They may not falsely represent themselves as attorneys.

nCollectors cannot contact anyone other than the debtor more than once, and then only to find out how to reach you. They may not tell anyone else you owe money.

nIf a creditor or collector sends a legal notice, do not ignore it. Most collections suits and arbitration proceedings against consumers result in default judgments because consumers failed to respond.

nIf the debt is valid, be careful about providing personal information, particularly account numbers

Know what the statute of limitations is in your state. Paying even a small amount could revive the debt under the statute of limitations.

Call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or visit more information or to file a complaint against a debt collector.