Aggressive Debt Collectors

If you're behind paying your bills, you can expect a call from a debt collector.  Lately, scam collectors have been preying on people who don't even owe a debt.  The Troubleshooters found just how aggressive these collectors can be. 

"It scared us, really.  It makes you think that they'll go to any lengths to collect a debt," said Denise LaBarre of South Windsor.

LaBarre said she owed an old credit card debt and collectors stopped at nothing to track her down.  They even targeted her parents. 

"The very last time (the collector) said to my dad that one of my friends was in a terrible car accident and he needed to get in touch with me immediately," LaBarre said.

Labarre said she panicked upon hearing the news.  But her family had caught the collector in a lie.  Turns out none of LaBarre's friends were hurt.

Still, she paid her debt and never heard from the collector again.

Other collectors threaten consumers by using vulgar language.  Or they tell the consumer to turn themselves in to law enforcement.

"Normally, debt collectors will be a little assertive but there's a line that they can't go over where it goes into abuse," said banking commissioner Howard Pitkin.

Connecticut's Department of Banking and Attorney General received more than three hundred complaints in 2012 about the debt collection process.  Many of the complaints focus on phone calls.

"If you owe money, obviously, what you owe you must repay but no one should be abused on the phone or otherwise just because they owe a debt," Pitkin said.

Consumers have rights when a caller crosses the line.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, collectors cannot get abusive or make untrue threats.  The consumer, once contacted, must make an affirmative statement to the debt collector about when and where to make future calls.  So a collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before eight in the morning or after nine at night, unless you agree to it.  And a collector may not contact you at work if they're told that you're not allowed to receive calls.

You should know defaulting on a debt is not a crime.  It's a civil issue and there is no such thing as a debtor's prison.

Attorney Dan Blinn said he gets more calls about aggressive debt collection than just about anything else.

"Debt collectors tell them that unless they make a payment right away they're going to go to jail," Blinn said.  "They call them at work repeatedly.  They threaten to call their bosses.  In some cases they do call their bosses."

Blinn said one of the new trends is rogue debt collection.  He said unlicensed collectors are often operating off-shore or from boiler rooms to avoid detection.

"It's impossible to find these people," Blinn said.  "They try to collect what they can as quickly as they can.  Then they shut down and set up shop some place else and start over again."

Also, make sure you actually owe money and the collection call is not a scam.

"It's amazing how they can get people to believe whatever they're saying and that's why they do it," Pitkin said.

Connecticut licenses about 900 debt collection companies.

"We know who is legitimate and who isn't," Pitkin said.

If you receive a collection call be sure to check your own records of your accounts and look for any suspicious financial activity.  

Consumers who feel they've been unfairly targeted by a debt collector can file complaints with the Attorney General and the Department of Banking.

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