Have you ever had a debt collector contact you?

Today we’re going to talk about problems in the debt collection industry from robo-signing to illegal collection techniques.

What can collectors not do? Here’s a list of no-nos from the Minnesota attorney general:

Collectors cannot harass, oppress, or abuse you or any other person they contact. Specifically, they cannot swear at you, threaten harm to you, call you repeatedly in an attempt to annoy you, call you without disclosing their identity, or publicize your name as someone who refuses to pay debts.

Collectors cannot use any false, deceptive or misleading statements when trying to collect a debt. Specifically, they cannot misrepresent the amount you owe, make a letter look as though it is from the government or a court, imply that they are government representatives, imply that nonpayment will lead to your arrest or garnishment, or threaten to disclose false information about you to a credit bureau.

Collectors may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt. Specifically, they cannot collect any amount greater than your debt, deposit a post-dated check prematurely, deceive you into paying for collect calls, threaten to take your property unless they can legally do so, contact you by postcard or apply your payment to a debt other than the one you have indicated.

Have you ever had an encounter with a debt collector? Did it ever cross into harassment or did it feel like part of a legitimate attempt to collect money you owed?

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Katie

    I’ve been through it all but I was living in Chicago. The first time I was served papers I cried. I couldn’t afford legal council, and so I conducted some internet research and ended up going with a debt settlement company where they collectively bargin on your behalf to your creditors.

    I was happy in the beginning of the process, but still ended up getting screwed. I’m not totally back where I started, but it’s frustrating because the last debt I’m trying to pay off has been sold SO many times, no one knows who has it. I live waiting for the other shoe to fall all the time.

    I’ve actually learned more about the legal system through it all. Truthfully, I think the worst part was the Judges that were presiding. All of the people in the courtroom were there for similar cases (debt) and yet would roll there eyes when someone would explain that they were trying to work out a reasonable payment plan.

  • sarah johanns

    Our bank contacted us back in January because there were thousands of dollars of charges on our credit card that were atypical of our spending habits and profile. We discovered that someone had stolen our credit card, and racked up literally about $3500 worth of charges. All of the charges were frozen, our card was closed, and we opened a new card. End of story. Several weeks later we rec’d a phone call from a collection agency, who told us we owed $225 from services provided, and we told him, assuming that that was one of the charges that came our stolen credit card #, that our card had been stolen and used for that purpose. When we asked him what the service was for, he advised that it was for a sex line, and someone at our home phone number (the one he called us on) had authorized the use of the card. I knew I hadn’t authorized that, and my husband, standing right there, hadn’t authorized it. We then came to discover that it was my 12 year old son. Our 12 yr old son had taken our credit card, provided it 1 time to a sexline company, and had repeatedly contacted the company for “services”, and they repeatedly charged our card-which were all of the charges that our bank did not pay. This was one straggler. We told them he is 12 years old, and stole our credit card, and this was not legitimite. I have saved over 25 messages from this company, and they are harassing us. What can we do? They are telling us they will take us to court and continue to increase the charges due to interest. We are saying, he is a 12 year old boy, and stole our credit card, and they are saying we need to press charges and provide a police report. I’d like to subpoena that phone conversation between them and my son, and hear whether or not he sounds like an adult, or what measures they have in place to prevent something like this from happening. Who is liable? What can be done? Do I have to press charges on my son, which would go on his record, or just pay the $225, or higher an attorney and pay those costs, or report them to the Attorney General?

  • Joan

    Just yesterday, I was contacted by a credit agency for supposedly not having paid a debt for a doctor’s bill. The same thing happened to my daughter about a year ago. In both cases, the doctor never submitted the charge for insurance coverage and never sent us a bill. Yet we were contacted by a collection agency. I am very unhappy about it. My credit score is over 800, so I am someone who pays my bills. I am also a former Deputy Attorney General for the State, so I also know my rights. I have written to the collection agency demanding proof that I owe a debt. The amount is small, but I am angry that my doctor’s office sent this to a collection agency without sending me a bill or otherwise contacting me first. I have had many appointments and they have never mentioned it to me. I have even asked them if I owe them anything (like co-pays) and they said no. This seems to be a very silly practice by my doctor. They must sell off the debt for pennies on the dollar. If I owe them, I would rather pay them. I am not happy about having to pay a collection agency. I am also very unhappy about a blemish on my good credit. I called my doctor’s office today to ask them about it and they haven’t returned my call yet. I am writing about this because we have had two similar incidents. When my daughter went to the emergency room, the hospital submitted their bill to insurance and then sent us a bill for the co-pay, which we paid promptly. The doctors never submitted the bill to insurance – even though they have the same information as the hospital. Then they sent my daughter’s bill to a collection agency a mere three weeks after she received service. I don’t understand why these doctors do this. Wouldn’t they make a lot more money if they actually hired a few staff to try to collect from their patients first? I have been shocked by both incidents because they make no economic sense. I would happily pay my doctor and my daughter’s doctor. I am wondering if anyone else has had this experience with doctor’s bills. Perhaps they are outsourcing their billing and collections because they don’t want to pay for it? I certainly intend to bring this up with my doctor the next time I see her.

  • Joan

    In response to Sarah Johanns: I am a former Deputy Attorney General for the State of Minnesota and helped get a consumer fraud law passed outlawing charging for “sex line” and other similar services to minors.

    Minnesota Statute Section 325F.692, Subd. 1(b) defines “Information Services” as: “‘Information service” means a billed service transmitted exclusively orally via the telecommunications network that may include provision of information or advice, participation in trivia or other games, participation in adult conversation or other group bridging services, or provision of similar billed services. An information service may be accessed by an information service customer by various methods including, but not limited to, dialing a 1-900 or 1-800 telephone number, or by the customer receiving a collect call from an information service provider following the customer’s 1-800 call.”

    The law then states (at 325F.692, Subd. 2): “A telephone service subscriber is not responsible for information service charges for calls made by minors or vulnerable adults as defined in section 626.5572, subdivision 21, unless expressly authorized by the subscriber or spouse.”

    You should contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office Consumer Fraud Division or the Residential and Small Business Utilities Division. It is clearly illegal for them to ask you to pay for the charges your minor child incurred on a telephone information services line. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office should be able to help intervene to stop the harassment.

  • Laura Jacobs

    For a number of years I received threatening calls for a debt that was not mine – the phone co had reassigned the number “too soon.” The calls tended to be ‘gotcha’ – they’d ask “is this L–?” and, because they asked quickly (the name was similar and they called me, after all), I usually wasn’t paying attention and would say ‘yes’. Then, when I said it was the wrong person, they’d get even more abusive. If I hung up, they called back. Even when I explained I was not the person they sought I was repeatedly threatened and verbally abused.

    Eventually the person’s debt went to court and I received a call from a lawyer. I tiredly explained that I was not the person who owed the debt. He contacted the local police who contacted me; and through checking drivers license confirmed I was not the person. I never got another call.