Given the declining economy and the dramatic loss of personal income and jobs, a growing number of people are finding themselves in serious credit-card debt, many for the very first time. Overzealous collection agencies are making the lives of people in trouble absolutely miserable. Collection abuse has reached absurd and intolerable levels as most people struggle to find ways to climb out of debt.
Collectors are urging people to sell their blood to pay down their credit-card debt. Blood banks are apparently paying up to $35 per donation. Not to worry, some collectors say, the body quickly replenishes its supply of plasma in the blood. And what does the sale of sperm bring in today’s market? It varies depending on the sperm bank, but if you’re a healthy male between the ages of 18 and 45, you can fetch up to $65 per specimen. These scenarios would be almost funny if it wasn’t so pathetically true.
Other collectors are routinely telling cardholders to charge their credit-card debt on to other credit cards, worsening an already bad situation. Other collectors tell people to borrow money from their children or parents to pay off their debt. Ironically, while these types of over-the-top collection techniques are offensive and outrageous, they are considered under most state laws legal.
It is abundantly clear that there needs to be a serious overhaul of our federal collection laws to better reflect the times and circumstances we’re in. We need to protect consumers from these types of cold-hearted abuses.
In the meantime, consumers need to know what specific conduct collection agencies are legally prohibited from doing in trying to collect a debt from you. They include but are not limited to the following:
Collectors cannot call you at unreasonable hours. The law presumes that 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. is reasonable. Any time outside this range is presumed to be unreasonable and therefore unlawful in most states.
Collectors cannot call you at work, so long as you first inform them that your employer does not permit personal phone calls.
Collectors cannot communicate with other people about your debt or even that you owe a debt. While they can look for you, they cannot mention or imply that it is about a debt you owe.
Collectors cannot threaten to sue you or take other legal action (like repossession or wage garnishment) unless they actually intend on doing so. (Also known as the “put-up or shut-up” rule.)
Collectors cannot engage in “harassment” in order to collect a debt. The following prohibited conduct has been considered harassment per se in most states. Collectors:
- Cannot threaten you that your credit will be ruined if you fail to pay your debt.
- Cannot threaten harm in any way — either directly or indirectly.
- Cannot use profanity.
- Cannot call you outside lawful hours (8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.).
- Cannot call you repeatedly (most states prohibit more than once a day).
- Cannot give the false impression that you are speaking with a lawyer. Similarly, they cannot send you a letter that falsely gives the impression it’s from a law office.
- Cannot request that you write a post-dated check. (A five-day post is allowed in some states.)
- Cannot falsely insinuate that by not paying your debt you have committed a crime. (Being delinquent on a debt is not a criminal offence.)
- Cannot communicate with you if you have referred them to your attorney and have given them the name, address, and phone number of the attorney.
- Cannot communicate with you by postcard.
- Cannot make false threats of suit or legal action without actually taking that action.
The most important thing to remember is to never take collection calls or collection letters personally. They will only add to your stress. They are the instruments of an ancient trade and are intended to convince you that paying them is more urgent then paying someone else.
Almost everyone, one time or another, will run into financial trouble. Sometimes, that trouble can be caused by a lost job, illness, divorce, accident, or a hundred other miserable troubles people are forced to endure in times of financial hardship.
Henry Dahut, Esq. is a strategic-planning and brand-marketing specialist in Studio City, California who works with the leadership of some of the largest and most profitable law firms in the world. He is also a special advisor to the State Bar of California, Law Practice Management and Technology Committee, and the author of Marketing the Legal Mind and Law Firms 2020 — Firms of the Future. His website is at www.GotTrouble.com.
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