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What To Do When A Debt Collector Crosses The Line

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At Christian Money.com we receive hundreds of e-mails per month from people being pressured by debt collectors. I believe that as Christians we should all pay our debts if we have the ability to do so. In this current economy, however, there are many people that simply can not make their debt payments. Although most Americans are not familiar with it, there is a federal law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that provides a wide array of rights to consumers dealing with collection agencies. There are also laws in most states regulating the debt collectors. This article is specifically aimed at helping people who are unable to pay their debts and as a result are being harassed by debt collectors.

There was an interesting recent story about a debt collector that allegedly used MySpace to post embarrassing and intimidating information in an effort to collect a debt.  This is sort of a ground-breaking legal situation in many respects. As far as I know, this is the first time a debt collector has been sued for using a social media site as a means of collecting a debt. In researching this story, I found it interesting that the latest tool of debt collectors is social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Now, the courts get to decide whether or not the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to social networking sites. My guess is that the debt collector has probably violated federal law by making an online public post as a means of collecting a debt. In my view, the fact that it occurred on a social networking site is no different than any other public venue. It will be interesting to see how this court rules on this case.

If you are one of the millions of Americans that are afraid to answer your phone because of the dozens of phone calls from collection agents, you do have some options. Some of the e-mails we have received from our readers describe scenarios were they are even being contacted repeatedly throughout the day at their workplace by debt collectors. Many people unable to cope with the stress of this situation hire an attorney and file for bankruptcy. Everyone loses when this happens. It is unlikely that the creditor will get much money in the end, and the newly bankrupt consumer will face lifelong consequences of having filed for bankruptcy. For most of the people that I correspond with, their main issue is that of the debt collection phone calls. I have heard stories of collection agencies calling 50 or more times in a single day. Even in this day and age of caller ID, that many phone calls could drive anyone over the edge.

Watch This Shocking Video Of A Collection Agency Executive Testifying In A Deposition

A simple way to stop the debt collection calls, is to send what is known as a cease communication letter. By sending this simple letter you can stop a creditor from making phone calls to you. This may not be your best option, until you have attempted to work out some sort of settlement. If you're unable to negotiate a payment plan that you can live up to, the cease communication letter may be your only option to save your sanity. I have had some individuals tell me that my advice on this literally saved their job. They were receiving so many collection calls at their place of employment that they were literally put on notice that their job was at risk. Even in cases where were these individuals told the debt collector, "you're going to get me fired” the calls kept coming. Debt collectors approach all of this on the premise that if they exert enough pressure you will find a way to come up with the money. The reality is that some people simply cannot pay their current debt payments due to a job loss, illness, or other catastrophic event. Some have just made bad decisions and now have more payments than they have income. Even though there circumstances are not without blame, it does not change the simple fact that they may not have the money to meet their financial obligations.

An Outline Of Your Consumer Rights Under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

  • Hours for phone contact: contacting consumers by telephone outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time
  • Failure to cease communication upon request: communicating with consumers in any way (other than litigation) after receiving written notice that said consumer wishes no further communication or refuses to pay the alleged debt, with certain exceptions, including advising that collection efforts are being terminated or that the collector intends to file a lawsuit or pursue other remedies where permitted
  • Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously: with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number
  • Communicating with consumers at their place of employment after having been advised that this is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer
  • Contacting consumer known to be represented by an attorney
  • Communicating with consumer after request for validation: communicating with the consumer or the pursuing collection efforts by the debt collector after receipt of a consumer's written request for verification of a debt (or for the name and address of the original creditor on a debt) and before the debt collector mails the consumer the requested verification or original creditor's name and address
  • Misrepresentation or deceit: misrepresenting the debt or using deception to collect the debt, including a debt collector's misrepresentation that he or she is an attorney or law enforcement officer
  • Publishing the consumer's name or address on a "bad debt" list
  • Seeking unjustified amounts, which would include demanding any amounts not permitted under an applicable contract or as provided under applicable law
  • Threatening arrest or legal action that is either not permitted or not actually contemplated
  • Abusive or profane language used in the course of communication related to the debt
  • Communication with third parties: revealing or discussing the nature of debts with third parties (other than the consumer's spouse or attorney) or threatening such action
  • Contact by embarrassing media, such as communicating with a consumer regarding a debt by post card, or using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business
  • Reporting false information on a consumer's credit report or threatening to do so in the process of collection

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    Of course, your best option is to attempt to make a settlement with a debt collector if you can.  If you are able to negotiate a settlement of your debt, be sure to get the settlement agreement in writing before making any payments.  If you feel uncomfortable negotiating with a debt collector, you can use a debt counselor such as Consumer Credit Counseling.  If things get too heated, you may want to get some legal advice.  We recommend a service called Pre Paid Legal, which provides unlimited access to attorneys by phone for about $26 per month (www.defendyourrights.us).  Once you send out a cease communication letter, the creditor can (and will) continue to send you collection notices by mail, may file suit against you, foreclosure (in the case of a mortgage), or repossess your vehicle (if it is a secured auto loan).  My point is don’t send out a cease communication letter until you have exhausted all of your other options.  The best outcome for everyone is some kind of a settlement of the debt.  Collection agencies can and do discount debts by as much as 80% in settlement agreements.  They can do this since many times they buy the debt for 10 cents or less on the dollar from the original creditor.

     

    Another great resource is Crown Financial Ministries, a Christian based organization that assists people with basic budget and money management counseling.

    Helping you make the most of God’s money!

    James L. Paris
    Editor-In-Chief ChristianMoney.com 
    Follow Me on Twitter Twitter.com/jameslparis
    Christian Financial Advice
    Jim Paris 24 Hour Radio

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