Thursday, October 23, 2008

Debt collectors still violate FDCPA: As a "third party" I get an illegal phone call

Yesterday (Oct 22), around 8:30 AM EDT, I received a bizarre phone call asking me to contact a “neighbor” to convey contact information about an urgent “personal business matter.” Since I worked in debt collection myself in 2003 while still in Minnesota, I was “suspicious” but I knew that if this was a collection matter, the caller was probably violating third party rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). (The FTC copy is here. I took down the information, including case number. I quizzed the caller further and he gave the address for which the party was a “neighbor,” which was my UPS Store mail box address. (UPS Stores now run what used to be called Mail Boxes ETC).

Apparently, the caller did not understand that these is a mailbox store in a high rise office building, and not a physical office number in such a building. At first, the idea that another mailbox in the same building would appear to be a "neighbor" sounds astonishing to common sense.

At the time, I wasn't sure that this was a collection call, or what it was, because it was so bizarre. I called the number he gave, and it repeatedly stalled and then went busy. Finally, around 11 AM I got through and got the name of the company. I looked up the company on the Internet and found out where it was, a "conventional" debt collection company.

I won’t name the company or the location (other than say East Coast – most debt collection offices are actually in the Midwest to take advantage of time zone spread) or, for that matter, of course, the supposed debtor here. I’m debating with myself whether to report this. Debtors should know they have a right to dispute collection calls and tell the agency to stop calling.

Actually, the prohibition against contacting third parties (which includes “neighbors” in the federal law but even includes spouses in a few states like Massachusetts [including same-sex spouses in that state]) is part of the whole new “reputation defense” problem. At least, imagine how it can be. This part of the FDCPA should be vigorously enforced.

Recently there have been several media stories about unscrupulous debt collection practices, even though most of the industry says it follows the rules.

In 2000, I found an old credit card debt on a credit report that had apparently been lost in a household move in the 1980s. It surfaced when Chase bought Chemical Bank. I called the debt company in New York City and was stiff-armed into paying it (about $600 ballooned from an original $120) when I should have been allowed to dispute it. In this case, the agency had bought the debt and was no longer just a third-party debt collector.

The industry trade association is the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA).

All legitimate debt collection calls should start with the mini-Miranda which is worded like this "This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose" and should identify the debt-collecting company and the agent, at least by a first name of pseudonym.

I did read Max Ellison's "Beat the Bill Collector" back in 1997 (from Paladin Press).

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