How to deal with debt collectors

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By Linda Ireland

Landmark News Service


A debt collector yelled at me this morning. I tried to yell back - but I think she hung up the phone before I got to that point.

And I think it was a debt collector. She had all the required traits - attitude, persistence, hide like a water buffalo.

The funny thing is ? it wasn't my debt.

It was my morning snooze, however. I worked 16 hours Monday and another eight Tuesday - on top of the 60-or-so from the previous week - so I believed a few extra zzzzs were owed me.

The phone rang and I, against my better judgment, answered it.

The female caller asked to speak to a person I'll refer to as Mr. Pootie.

I told her she had the wrong number. She asked if I knew Mr. Pootie.

The truth is that I do know Mr. Pootie, or at least a Mr. Pootie. How do I know if it's the same fella?

However, since I  had no reason to cooperate with her and was still 75 percent asleep, I told her that nobody by that name lives at my house and had never lived at my address. Mr. Pootie has a right to his privacy, I figured, and it wasn't his fault that someone dialed the wrong number. 

That wasn't good enough for the caller.

"That isn't what I asked you," she said and repeated the question.

What a little spitfire.

And that's when I realized she hadn't told me her name - so I asked. Imagine a cow chewing a cud and bellowing "Sabrina" at the same time. She was with a company called "First Tours" or it could have been "For Sure." I'm not sure.

Sabrina-moo tired of my evasive answers and let me have it. Suddenly, I was not so groggy anymore.

I told her she was being rude and I was hanging up. Not so fast, bawled Sabrina. She was not being rude, she insisted, I was the one being uncooperative.

So I yelled, "Do not call here again" and hung up the phone.

Mr. Pootie, you owe me one, fella. I hope you pay your bill quickly so the rest of us can sleep undisturbed. For sure.

Since I was awake anyway and needed material for a column, I got on the Internet to find out if the bellower had a right to call and harass me about someone else's bill.

It turns out there isn't a lot of protection for consumers against such tactics. I'd have more rights if I were the debtor.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that governs the actions of debt collectors for personal debt. Auto loans, home loans, medical bills and credit card accounts are all considered personal debts.

Here are a few of the rules:

- They can't call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (Sabrina cut it close on that one).

- They can't call you at work if they are aware your employer doesn't approve of these calls. (And why would they?)

- They can't harass, oppress or abuse you. (Apparently bellowing at you is allowed.)

- They can't lie (!) or falsely imply you have committed a crime.

- They can't conceal their identity on the phone. 

- They can't tell someone else about the debt. It seems they can call random numbers and try to track you down, they just can't tell the person why.

Apparently, my only recourse is to write to the company and request they do not contact me again. I sort of ruined that option when I slammed the phone. And, they had blocked their number - no way to trace it.

But - if it happens again, I'll get the name and number of the company so I can send my "cease and desist" letter. Certified.

Then, the FDCPA says I have the right to:

- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against the collector. 

- File a complaint with the state's attorney general. 

- File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. 

- File a civil suit for up to $1,000 including damages.

 Editor's note: Linda Ireland is the editor of The LaRue County Herald News in Hodgenville.