May 22nd, 2014
Unfair Debt Collection Practices on the Rise
Debt collection practices continue to come to our attention. Many of our clients have experienced harassing phone calls, demands for payments not truly owed, illegal threats of bogus consequences for failing to pay, up to and including imprisonment, or lawsuits to collect stale debts that are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. These abuses are disturbingly common - in fact, a great many debt collectors built their business on these practices.
Abusive debt collection practices can take a terrible toll, emotionally and practically. Beyond the fear, stress and embarrassment, families can have their bank accounts frozen, making it impossible to pay for their most basic needs. Debt collectors frequently place incorrect information on people's credit reports, impairing their ability to secure credit, housing and even employment on some occasions.
Debt collection has quickly become the number one source of complaints at the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Likewise, Complaints have increased more than 1,400 percent at the Federal Trade Commission. Consumer complaint data indicates the most common grievances are mistaken information and what the CFPB calls "aggressive communication tactics and threats."
Reports demonstrate no shortage of appalling anecdotes. In Illinois, an elderly woman was repeatedly called and harassed over a debt allegedly owed by her ex-husband, from whom she had been divorced for more than 30 years. Another woman who was caring for four profoundly disabled foster children nearly had her bank account frozen (despite the fact that it contained nothing but public-benefit funds designated for the children's care) as a result of a judgment that had been vacated years earlier.
The up-tick in debt collection problems appears to be a combination of aggressive lending and widespread economic distress. Household debt nearly doubled in the half-decade before the financial crisis of 2008; the reckless lending and deceptive loans of those years contributed to a sharp rise in payment delinquency, which was accompanied by an explosion of new debt buyers and a deterioration of industry practices.
Having paid pennies on the dollar for the right to go after a portfolio of purportedly delinquent debtors, many debt buyers fail to determine the validity of the data they purchased. Often, years have passed and misinformation has become engrained into the collection process. Rather than perform due diligence, collectors often adopt a shotgun approach, hoping to frighten a few people into paying opposed to pursuing their rights.
The National Consumer Law Center, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, and others have called for further regulation by the CFPB. Fortunately, for West Virginians, strong state remedies already exist. Penalties of nearly $5,000 for each act (i.e. call or letter) that violates state law are provided, along with the right to recovery your attorney fees.
Consider contacting us if you have been subjected to the practices described herein, including:
1) threats that non-payment will result in arrest or garnishing wages without informing the consumer that a judicial order is necessary for any garnishment;
(2) the use of profane or obscene language;
(3) calling repeatedly or continuously, or at unusual times, with intent to annoy, abuse, oppress or threaten any person at the called number;
(4) the communication with any employer of information relating to an employee's indebtedness;
(5) the disclosure of information relating to a consumer's indebtedness to any relative or family member of the consumer if such person is not residing with the consumer;
(6) falsely stating that the call is "urgent" or an "emergency";
(7) collection or threatened assessment of the debt collector's fee, attorney fees or other charges;
(8) any communication with a consumer whenever it appears that the consumer is represented by an attorney;
(9) any false representation of the character, extent or amount of a debt, or of its status in any legal proceeding; and
(10) auto-dialed collection calls made to your cell phone without your permission.
This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Bordas & Bordas and the user or browser.