WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I STOP PAYING ON MY CREDIT CARD OR OTHER ACCOUNT?
Let’s start with the basics. Typically, particularly with credit card accounts, the answer is calls, calls and more calls.
Then what? Well, normally, most creditors after about 90 days will place the account in the hands of a collection agency. At this point it will no longer be Chase or Bank of America calling you day and night but rather it will be a collection agency that starts to hound you relentlessly.
Fortunately, there is a federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (referred to as the FDCPA) that regulates the practices of bill collectors. The law does not apply to the original creditors –the credit card companies, hospital, car lender, etc.- but it certainly applies to the law firms, debt buyers and collection agencies hired to collect on behalf of the original creditor.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BILL COLLECTORS?
They tend to break the law every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Why? For the same reason that John Dillinger responded to the question of “Why do you rob banks” with the sardonic answer “Because that is where the money is.” Similarly, most collection agencies will violate the FDCPA with some frequency because that is where the money is. Meaning, consumers pay. Why else would there be thousands of collection agencies out there?! Bill collectors operate under the mantra of “persistence breaks resistance.” They count on the fact that they can wear you down with a barrage of calls and that almost all people want to pay back the money that they owe as long as they have the ability to do so. They also know that most attorneys, let alone consumers, do not know what the FDCPA is. Or, that they simply will not dare or bother to sue them.
WHY SHOULD YOU, THE CONSUMER, CARE ABOUT THE FDCPA?
Because knowledge is power. In fact knowledge is sometime even money:) If you can prove even one single violation under the FDCPA you can recover up to $1,000.00 for a “technical violation(s)” and for serious cases with actual damages far more than that. And the beauty is that you do not have to pay any legal fees to your attorney. If the attorney wins the case for you the collection agency has to pay your attorney his/her legal fees as well as paying you, the consumer. Kind of like with a car accident case…we do not recover unless you recover motto.
Second, it allows you to take control. Rather than changing your phone number, or being startled each time the phone rings you can once again pick up the phone.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON VIOLATIONS EMPLOYED BY BILL COLLECTORS?
1. Leaving voice mails in which they fail to identify themselves as a collection agency and fail to tell you the name of the collection agency. You would be surprised at how many times they will leave a message without disclosing this information. Why? Because they figure you are more likely to call them back about that “important matter” if they do not reveal who they are. Bottom line: Save those voice mails. There might be $1,000.00 in there!
2. Calling and leaving an urgent message with your neighbor or more commonly a relative. Why do they do that? Because most people are mortified at the thought that their mom or cousin now know that a collection agency is calling them and will relent and pay the collector in order to keep them from further embarrassing them. This tactic is absolutely illegal. A collector can maybe call once to a third party in seeking “location information,” but beyond that they can only call and communicate with the consumer or their attorney. They are not allowed to “air out your dirty laundry.” So if this happens to you be sure to save the name and phone number that is passed along to you. And instead of a payment you can reply to the message with a lawsuit!
3. The third most common method employed by bill collectors is lying or being less than 100% truthful. The problem with bill collectors is that they are pretty impotent. Unlike Tony Soprano and his posse they cannot break legs or burn down your store. In fact, the only thing that they can do is call you incessantly (actually, in most instances, they cannot even do that), send you collection letters, and report your account to the credit bureaus. That is it. So if you do pick up the phone (and I strongly encourage you to do so) and you hear them say anything along the lines of “if you do not pay then we are going to sue you, garnish you, put lien on your house, get a judgment against you” or in the most extreme examples “have you arrested” understand that not only are they full of baloney, but they are violating the FDCPA and inviting you to sue them and collect up to $1,000.00 for their empty threats. Only the original creditor can sue you. Only the original creditor can get a judgment against you IF they sue you first and win. Only the…you get the idea. Collection agencies are a “paper tiger!”