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December 8th, 2009
07:00 AM ET

Debt collectors go to offensive extremes

Buried under debt with no way out. As more consumers fall behind on their bills, some in the collection industry are going to offensive extremes to get a hold of their cash.

But you should know, there are strict laws about how debt collectors have to do business. Our John Zarrella reports in this AM original.

Filed under: Economy
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Lonny Ohio

    I understand the pressure that Debt Collectors put on people. I have found out because of health issue I will never work again. I had some credit card debt and school loans.
    They call my Father and Mother who are in their late 80'S and make threat against them over my debt. The are some of the lowest people on the face of the earth. They go after the weak, and those who just don't understand to just hang up.

    January 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  2. STARR

    what can i do?they keep ask what my bank account#what my assets?

    December 31, 2009 at 7:25 pm |
  3. Rick

    I feel for people with tons of Medical bills. Its ruff. The ones that run regular credit cards up on clothes,Tvs,Xmas ect. is the ones I dont feel sorry for.

    December 31, 2009 at 10:32 am |
  4. Nancy Ferguson

    I would like to know if GE Money Bank is an American bank? I have a travel trailer financed with them. Then I find out that they do collections for other companies such as: Dillard's and Lowes. These are the ones that I know of. When I get phone calls referencing my payment is past due, I find out they are calling from IRAN. WHY??? Why are we dealing with such a radical country that doesn't like us. Also most of the people working for them have such terrible accents or their (English) is so bad you can hardly understand them. I have not missed any payments, only been late. I have tried to change my payment dates. However, one company won't let me becacuse I have already changed the payment due date once. Is my personal information compromised because of this type of doing business?

    December 31, 2009 at 9:36 am |
  5. earl

    James M. If your has occured through no fault of your own ie: hit by a truck. There are provisions in the health care system to take care of you. Compensation etc. If you still feel hard done by and are still attending the pity party. Pick up the phone and ring a public trustee and go bankcrupt. end of story. The lessons get harder.

    If you want the learning. please put a direct debit in place for your creditor, regardless of the amount. He will work with you. If we dont pay the system breaks down, people loose there jobs business stops and we have a spiralling effect. We all have to play/Pay our part.

    I also understand and agree with you on, people srewing the system.
    They have the curse of poverty over them. Dont worry. They live in a fools paradise.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  6. earl

    Bonzo Be firm and explain to them you are not the person. Explain you are willing to identify yourself. Give them your full name date of birth and drivers license if you have one. If they presist answer but dont talk.
    Say hello and the minute they identify them self put the phone down, dont hang up just put the phone down next to the receiver.

    I dont have to attend every argument I'm invited to. Blessings

    December 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  7. bonzo

    I have a debt collector calling me on my cell about a student loan. Never had a student loan. They ask if I know so & so, I answer no, they won't take no for an answer, I think this girl either had my number previously or gave them a bogus number. The collectors are real hard core, so they are now on my blocked list in my phone.

    December 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm |
  8. James M.

    I am perplexed by the lack of compassion by many concerning debt.
    Especially Craig (USMC) who is receiving Government Health Care, thanks to my taxes it is all FREE. Plus he is on the Government dole and gets a great salary (yes, he puts his life on the line, but so do Police, Fire and other public workers)- I should know I served for 20 years in the USMC and 10 years as a big city Police Officer. There is a difference between getting in debt because you bought too many cars, boats, etc., but if you are minding your own business and hit by a drunk driver, your medical bills are enormous and when the insurance company does not pay the $300K, your in debt.! If Craig is hit, tax payers pay. Then there is the guy who said put those who owe in jail! These are the same guys who don't want to pay taxes for anything, yet wants a big tax increase to throw thousands more Americans in jail for non-violent crimes. These are the same guys who don't want "Government Run Health Care" but collect that Social Security Check every month. Put you money where your mouth and return your SS checks and don't use Medicaid!

    December 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  9. earl

    My prayers are with you Carol. God makes a way where there is no way. recovery starts with one day one hour one minute one second at a time. Stay strong.
    I run a business and have debtors in default. How to over come your bad financial positions.
    1. Rule one. Dont avoid phone calls they dont go away.
    2. Explain your position and say I am going to put a direct debit in place. I know its not much but I am going to honour you for your grace and generousity that you showed me when I signed the contract. Also say if your financial positions changes you will increase the ammount.
    3. As little as you can afford please pay your creditor. This is not about them its about you and your healing within. If it takes a decade to pay them thats okay. Your leaning is so Great, that not only have you kept your integrity and honour the universe is about to bow down to you and teach you financial mistries and princeples that you would never find any where elese.
    4. Trying to avoid not paying is a llife sentence to poverty, you learn nothing and end up with nothing. Plug into wealth and learn the secrets now.

    God Bless

    December 27, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  10. James E

    It used to be that if you had debt, it was a bad thing to have. Now with all marketing and pushing people onto products just to have it, we have become desensitized from the stigma of having debt. While I sympathize for people who have falling on hard times through no fault of their own via job and medical, you should to plan for emergencies so you can be prepared for the eventuality that it may happen. Having the financial knowledge and planning comes along way rather than reacting to it.

    December 21, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  11. Sue

    I have been reading these replies and one thing keeps cropping up that hurts people a lot. Medical Bills! I can truly say this problem of medical bills is what gets the US resident in more trouble. I too lived in the States for 23 years (I am a citizen). And having to have to worry about medical bills even for a short time can be frustrating to say the least. When your child gets hurt or spouse and you have to take time off to take care of them, and then you lose your job. No one can plan for cancer, or an accident. If you are without health insurance then let your member of congress know and tell them you want health care. Even if you have health care tell them you want the rules changed so they can't deny you your claim. The insurance company should not be "for profit". They should be there to help everyone not just a lucky few who can get health care. I got a brain aneurysm 3 months after I got health insurance. I was lucky that they paid for it. The bill was close to $200,000.00. I made min wage back then (13years ago). There was no way I could have paid for that. I now live in Canada and have medical coverage like everyone else. I have no medical debt. If you find yourself over your head and cannot deal with your debt, then file for bankruptcy. It hurts, but then the pain goes away and you have learned a valuable lesson. Don't get over your head. Life goes on. I live within my means now. If I can't pay for it, I don't buy it.

    December 18, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  12. Robert G Vandagriff Sr.

    why doesnt we the people, go after our government and all the crooks in the housing market and wallstreet and the auto business, and the banks, and indite them all for fruad and stealing americas resources,and ripping off the peope, we the people for over 100 years of rich oppression, were is we the peoples justice, i ll tell you win when Jesus comes and sends them all to hell!

    December 16, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Joy

    Those who think "just pay the debt": When the debt is medical, we should have planned for it? Our son broke his knee, we had insurance, still owed $3500 after surgery. My husband fell at work and was out of work for 6 weeks. Worker's comp denied several hospital bills and they went immediately to collections. Same month both instances happened and I lost my job for "missing too much work". Don't tell me to " just pay my bills". I think there should be a special place in H*** for collectors of medical bills. We have a hospital here that expects your bill paid in full in 3 months no matter what. You can fight it out with the insurance later. Yet, when my husband was transferred to the Mayo Clinic-big name-we were helped to get the WC figured out and they accept payments otherwise. I don't consider it "stealing" if you can't pay for necessary medical care.

    December 12, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  14. Craig (USMC)

    I say that if you are responsible and pay your debt then you will not have to worry about debt collectors. People who do not pay there debt are a drain on our society.

    December 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  15. Linda

    At one time I had a Capital One card. I had not had a balance on the card in about a year when tI hey started getting calls about a deliquent bill. I tried to tell them that the account they were calling about was not mine. Somehow they had merged my account with a overdue account of a person with the same first and last name. The social was not the same and the address was not the same. They called me for months and told me they were going to sue me if I did not pay the bill immediately. I did not have an extra $560 the pay the bill even if I wanted to. The people on the phone were so hateful that they had me in tears a couple of times. I talked to several people in the agency and they were all so hateful. I finally found one that would listen and I got it straightened out but it took months.

    December 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  16. Tracie

    Larry –
    Supposedly "beating the crap" out of one bill collector won't send a message to the rest of the bill collectors around the country not to mess with you. You're full of it.

    AJM –
    I agree. I don't like to and sometimes have a hard time paying my own bills, but my bills come first and anything left is for recreation (more recently for saving). Some people just don't have their priorities straight.

    Rich –
    The FDCPA cease and decist letter is helpful but all that does for some is speed up due process and get you into court faster. Just because you send that letter to a creditor and/or collection agency doesn't mean that they will stop all action against you, it may mean that they will stop calling you for a period of time, but you still legally owe the debt and they can still legally collect it from you through any means possible which includes the courts and through garnishments.

    My suggestion to everyone is to communicate with your creditors and/or collection agencies. You took money from them to buy something you wanted so guess what, you do owe the money and the right thing to do is repay it. Not all bill collectors are bad and if you have a bad experience with one either hang up and call back to get someone else or ask for their supervisor. There are laws that all consumer bill collectors have to follow and if someone truly is harassing you then you should file a complaint against them. But remember, calling you every day asking you for money DOES NOT constitute harrassment, it means they are doing their jobs.

    Believe it or not, companies do understand when you fall on hard times and need help, but they also recognize consistent bad behavior and that's when they tend to get more hard-nosed. All companies make notes of all conversations with their customers so if you told your creditor 18 months ago that you were behind because your Morther just died and you use that same excuse again, they're going to know it and they're going to know that you're lying!

    Remember, these people are working just like you so don't shoot the messenger. And remember, YOU are the one not paying your bills and it is no one's fauly but YOUR OWN, regardless of the reasons, it is your debt and your responsibility ALONE!

    December 9, 2009 at 10:31 am |
  17. James Fincher

    This whole thing would be solved with two simple words: debtor's prison.

    December 9, 2009 at 9:55 am |
  18. Mike

    All those that say "Just pay the debt" onviously have never been in financial strife as the result of a serious injury or loss of a job or a combination of an injury that causes the lose of a job.
    Through no fault of their own people can be placed in a financial crisis. Insurance companies deny payments for valid claims. Employers terminate employment shortly after a new home is bought. The list goes on and on. I had one collection agency harassing me that was looking for my adult daughter. He threatened to file a charge of credit fraud against my daughter because the phone number showed that it came out of one town and her credit application listed another town. That was a big mistake for the jerk. We live in a rural area outside of city limits and our mailing address is one town, our water bill comes out of another town, and our phone comes out of another town. The State attorney General's office had a long talk with the the collectin agency after I filed my complaint. You got to love it when jerks commit acts of stupidity that get them in trouble.

    December 9, 2009 at 9:46 am |
  19. CJM

    Jim and AJM: I hope you never slip and fall, or are hit while driving to your work, or contract a disease that affects your ability to work. Your lack of compassion for those situations was stunning.

    The story was about a man that a heart attack prevented him from working. It wasn't someone doing the subprime junk.

    December 9, 2009 at 9:15 am |
  20. Red

    For people in serious debt the answer is very simple. Go Bankrupt. It was the answer to big companies debt problems and is the answer to yours. The laywers running GM, Chrysler, CIT, every Airline except AA, are smarter than you. They filed bankruptcy and have shed the debt and our still in business. Bankruptcy is the Federal Governments way of stopping collector phone calls and starting over. Donald Trump bankrupt his business THREE times and is far richer today. Are you smarter than him and his lawyers...NO.

    December 9, 2009 at 7:29 am |
  21. Larry

    I was hounded by debt collectors despite making regular payments as agreed. They always wanted more for some reason. I finally told them I would settle up in cash but they would have to show up in person and sign the receipt. When he got to my place I beat the crap out of him. I pleaded guilty and did go to jail for it but it was worth it. Now that I am out they don't call me anymore.

    December 9, 2009 at 4:55 am |
  22. pay your debt

    I think the messages this company left were out of line. but the bottom line is don't borrow more than what you can repay. I look at the current state of our economy and people are just blaming everyone but themselves. Like the mortgage crisis. many of the people losing their homes are those who financed a bigger home than they could afford. don't live beyond your means as you will pay for it later. So before you blema the collector blame yourself for taking on the debt in the first place. i understand things do happen but that is not the way credit works. you signed for a loan so you need to repay it. when you dont repay it, it is the same as stealing.

    December 9, 2009 at 4:27 am |
  23. a debt collector

    being that i am a debt collector i can tell you that not all companies are under the fdcpa or fair debt collections practices act. such as banks. and lenders who own your house or some other type of loan doesnt ever have to quit calling you as isnt under the fdcpa. you have stolen money from a bank plain and simple. would the police not go after a bank robber? botom line here is dont take on debt you cannot repay. always figure in what if something happens tomorrow how will you repay that money. we have total monthly bills here of ybder $1800 while our income allows for much more we dont take it. there can always be a rainy day. plan for it. I saw a story on here where a couple was losing their home after Extreme Makeover came and fixed it and they blamed the tv show. dont blame the show these people did a refi on their home for 450k i do not feel sorry for them at all. we would never take out any loan for 450k!!! you are responsible for your actions.

    December 9, 2009 at 4:12 am |
  24. Kevin

    I realize that debt collection is a necessary function. I also realize that many people get themselves way over their heads in debt and deserve to lie in the bed they made for themselves.

    However, from my experience, there are more "rogue" debt collectors out there than compliant one. I realize they aren't supposed to be "Debbie the Time-Life Operator" and they sometimes need to push people to pay their bills. Still many are very abusive and step over the lines. They do it because for every 1 that gets reported, thousands go unreported. They also are effective in scaring people into paying. Most of the time it is money owed but they are often taking food off their family's plates to pay for this.

    Instead of making the penalties civil, they penalties against these rogue collectors need to be criminal. If it means spending serious prison time or felony convictions for abusive phone tactics like this, I guarantee they will stop. I sure wouldn't risk my freedom for a lousy doctor bill account if I was a collector!!

    People tend to have less inhibitions by phone than they do in person. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and they often step way over the line.

    December 9, 2009 at 3:34 am |
  25. AJM

    How about just paying your bills in the first place and you won't get these phone calls.

    December 9, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  26. Tim

    I was two months late with my car payment to CitiFinancial Auto here in November. I had run into some financial troubles, but called and scheduled a payment over the phone to cover the two months. The woman I spoke was very nice and helpful and she explained that the payment would bring my account current, but my November payment would be due shortly after that. I gave her a date two weeks out when I would make that payment, she said that was acceptable because of my grace period, and noted my account.

    THE NEXT DAY, another person from Citi, same department, called and left me a voice mail stating, "you need to call us immediately. We have been trying to reach you for months and you refuse to return our calls. You need to secure this account immediately!" I was too mad, so did not return the call that evening. The very next morning at work, another person called me and wanted to know when I would make a payment to "secure" the account. When I pointed out the recent payment and the notes the other person put on my account, she wouldn't even look at any notes. She simply kept saying you need to make a payment or we're going to keep calling you! She then went so far as to tell me that it was in my best interest to make a payment right away so, "they wouldn't have to SEND AN AGENT FROM THEIR COMPANY OUT TO MY PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT TO DISCUSS MY DELINQUENT ACCOUNT!" Keep in mind, my "delinquent" account was 10 days late at that point. I asked her if this "agent" was going to beat me up. She replied, "I don't know what they'll do but if you make a payment, you won't have to worry about it." I told her that I found that very hard to believe, then said, "please make sure you note that on my account." Of course, she said "I will!" and hung up.

    I wish I could have recorded that call because I could not believe the way I was treated. I will NEVER DO BUSINESS WITH CITIBANK IN THE FUTURE! One more thing, didn't we, the American people, bail them out??? You're welcome CitiFinancial Auto......

    December 8, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  27. Zena

    To DAVID ONEAL, "I treated all of them with the respect and dignity that they deserved." I'm so happy for you that you can judge the rest of the planet according to your high standards! It must be nice to be god. However, many of us do NOT owe the debts these companies are trying to college. The federal government turned me over to a collection agency for a student loan, even though I was CURRENT with my payments. Yes, I was CURRENT with my payments. However, the feds failed to provide the collection agency with a copy of the contract (the original note was amended and signed by a United States FEDERAL judge), so the collection agency has REFUSED my payments for the past TEN YEARS because they want more money than the contractual amount. I have provided them with copies of the contract many, many times, but the collection agency refused to honor it because they don't have to–they represent the federal government. My credit is ruined, and I cannot make payments because the collection agency won't accept them. I've even tried paying the amount in full, but I cannot because the collection agency won't accept it. I'm screwed.

    December 8, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  28. Jim

    The easiest way to stop debt collectors is to PAY the bill. I see so many people just not pay and they do it everywhere. This particularily hurts small business as any money not paid back can be disastrous.

    December 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  29. Chris H.

    I'm a green tree customer and they are a mean bunch even to those who are current. Every monthly statement I receive has the following in a mean bold font "We may report information about your account to credit bureaus. Late payments, missed payments, or other defaults on your account may be reflected in your credit report. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose."

    December 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  30. Doug Meyers

    I have been in the collection industry for 18 yrs. Debt Collections and Attorneys are in the same boat...........the VAST majority of both abide by the law and stress positive, ethical treatment and communication to get an issue resolved. Every 2 years or so there is an expose about "rogue" debt collectors that tarnishes the image of ALL of us. The truth is without collection agencies, imagine what your credit card interest rate would be, or what the avilibility of student loans would be, etc....... Bill collectors provide a service that benefits all. The laws are written to punush those that do NOT follow the law, not those that abide by it.

    December 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm |
  31. Charles

    Listen people, these "Debt Collectors" are agencies that have "bought" your debt at a discounted rate from your original the original debt has actually been paid off by these debt collectors. You don't owe them ANYTHING! If you have caller ID just ignore all "Unidentified" callers..simple enough. Or if you want to have some fun, answer the phone and say "hello?", let them talk for about 2 minutes and then repeat "hello?"'s really fun! Try it!

    December 8, 2009 at 5:37 pm |
  32. Kathy

    A lot of people do not realize there are laws to protect them from these debt collectors who break the law and use tactics that they are not supposed to use. If someone gets sick and can no longer work or lose their job thru lay off, most of the time, there is no way they can pay their bills. There should be stricker laws for these debt collectors. I have had them talk to me like I was a dog, hang up on me because they did not like what I was saying, call me at work, even after I requested them not to. I know what I owe and at that time, my husband had became ill and could not work. My focus and attention was on him and getting them the medical help that he needed. We had always paid our bills, but then came the time when we could not. I say shut some of the agencies down if they disregard the law. We need to do away with them altogether. It would help the people of America a lot. I feel most people want to pay their bills, they just can't. I am not talking about the people that will not pay. I know there are many like that to. The American Public needs to be more educated on the debt collector laws. Some people are scared into paying. There is not sense in that. These unfair debt collectors need to be stopped and stopped now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 8, 2009 at 3:07 pm |

    Back in the 1980's, I worked for several collection agencies and saw first hand how some collectors used "scare tatics" to get debtors to pay and pay quickly.

    I have NEVER been a "rogue collector".
    My training was of the highest quality and although I won't say I was "nice" to debtors...I treated all of them with the respect and dignity that they deserved while making legal attempts to collect a debt.

    Some years ago, I wanted to start up my own agency, but with stories like this one. I can't see it being as lucrative a business as it was some 10-20 yrs ago.

    December 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  34. rich

    Really the easiest way to handle Debt collectors is to simply lay the phone down or place it by the radio or tv with them turned up LOUD.

    December 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm |
  35. rich

    This letter can be used to STOP all phone calls for a back debt. Send it to the company making the phone calls.
    Dear Sirs(or name of company)
    This will serve as your legal notice pursant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 805, to cease and desist all further communication with me in regard to the above referenced debt or debts. You are hereby iinstructed to cease collection efforts immediately or face Legal Sanctions under applicable Federal and State Law. Signed_______

    December 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm |
  36. Carol M. Dean

    Would like to add my humble opinion.I was a happy, healthy, size 4,registerede nurse with excellent job performance evaluations.I was rear-ended, suffering a spinal cord injury and serveral neck vertebrae requiring surgery and stabilization with donor bone graft and a titanium plate. 49 y/0 with a 4 y/o son. I was engaged to remarry. Prior to the surgery, I lost use of my arms, and had a difficult walk pattern. I realized my fiance wasn;t interestede in marrying me anymore, because I was now damaged goods. I worked my butt off in therapy to get stronger, all the while, no income. after several months, I begged my nuerosurgeon to release me to work, and the fiance did marry me,A mistake. I wasn't perfect, but returned to nursing just the same. I thought lightening doesn't strike twice, but I was rear ended again 3 1/2 yrs. later. Now I can't work at all, difficult to use my arms. I got not 1 penny from state farm. they claim the first accident did this, I recovered and returned to work. State farm client did infact ruin my further work potential, ability to save for retirement, save for college,they are scams.because I always worked as a nurse, my social security check is 1330, of which many meds get paid. My life is ruined, living below poverty level, because of unjust insurance companies.As far as debt collectors, because of old medical bills that I can't pay, I am hounded 7 days a week by phone, and mail nonm stop.So: Mr. John Zarella, I hope you are able to uncover the messes that have happened to the average person. Blessings for taking on the industry Carol

    December 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  37. Debbie Rudenbacher

    I delt with PHG Financial a year or so ago about a medical bill. They were very professional and helpful.

    December 8, 2009 at 9:35 am |