On October 19, 2010, NBC’s “Today Show” (TodayShow.com) aired an investigation on extreme debt collection calls and debt collection lawsuit abuses. The threats and insults left by debt collectors on recorded voice messages was shocking, to say the least. The shocking calls should be heard by every American who is old enough to apply for a credit card or personal loan. Please follow the link: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/3041440/vp/39737563#39737563
At the end of the report, the NBC senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, offered her thoughts on how to deal with a debt collector. Ms. Myers stated: (1) “If you get contacted by a debt collector, the worst thing you can do is ignore it.” (2) “If you do owe it [the debt], make some arrangements to start paying at least a little something.”
The first comment about not ignoring the call may or may not be a good tip, and Ms. Myers was short on specifics. What if the debt collector has no regard for the collection laws? Will responding to the debt collector really help or will it encourage more calls and more aggression? Ms. Myers suggests that consumers contact the collector for documentation of the debt, but she does not suggest how to make such contact.
To call a debt collector may put the consumer on a fast track for the extreme insults and threats aired in the Today Show report. Also, phone requests leave no paper trail. The debt collector may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, if they ignore a timely written request for verification, but continue collection attempts. Thus, verification requests should be by written letter, sent certified mail, within 30 days of receiving an initial letter from a debt collector. A sample letter with more tips is at www.StopCollectionHarassment.com, letter number 1.1.
The second comment to arrange to pay “at least a little” on the debt could be a disaster, if the debt collection agency later files a credit card lawsuit against the consumer. Under California law, these small payments may be used by the debt collector’s collection attorney to show that the lawsuit is timely, within the statute of limitations period. Without these small payments, many debts become unenforceable in court. Even small payments could extend the enforcement period for several extra years, under California law.
As to both comments, Ms. Myers would have been wise to suggest that consumers promptly consult with a consumer attorney experienced in debt collection harassment or debt collection lawsuits, for a credit card lawsuit or debt collection default judgment. Ms. Myers also might have suggested that consumers file complaints about harassing debt collectors with the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks consumer complaints and reports to Congress, or complain to their state attorney general or department of consumer affairs.
The report remarked that “the deck is stacked heavily against consumers.” An experienced consumer attorney can help stop the collection calls and prevent a lawsuit from garnishing wages or freezing your bank account.