In an interesting twist of events, a professional debt collector owes one woman $33,000 for harassing her over $350 in late payments on a used car. The man, going by John Anderson on ABC News’ “20/20,” said he’s very good at his job, and mostly follows the law. According to him, he only pushes the envelope by, say, occasionally calling someone at 9:15 p.m. instead of before 9 p.m., as the law requires.
However, his alleged victim, Jessica Burke, said that he told her he was a private investigator, and that he could find her anywhere. She also said he had managed to find out some of the names of her co-workers and friends, and that he’d even called her boss and told him she owed money.
That’s a far more blatant violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act than calling people 15 minutes later than the law allows. So is threatening to send the police out to have a debtor arrested in a text message, as Burke accuses Anderson of doing.
Richard Doan, the president of the Debt Collection Trade Group, told “20/20” that most collectors “scrupulously obey the law.” However, according to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, in 2005, there were 66,000 complaints against debt collectors. Depending on how many complaints were valid, and how much debt collection activity there was in the U.S. that year, that could be a large percentage or a small one. The raw number, though, shows that there may not be as many debt collectors who are very careful about following the law as Doan thinks.
While the FDCPA applies mostly to third-party collectors, there are states in which it applies to the original creditor, too, such as your own bank, or the company through which you secured financing for a car. To settle the debt, Burke took her car into her financing company and settled whatever remained on her debt. Still, Anderson continued to harass her.
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors may not:
- Threaten violence or harm to the debtor;
- Use obscene or profane language that’s intended to harass or abuse the debtor;
- Call the debtor repeatedly with the intent to annoy and harass.
Additionally, it’s illegal for debt collectors to do the following:
- Threaten to have you arrested for not paying your debt;
- Misrepresent themselves as lawyers, law enforcement, etc.;
- Threaten to have your wages garnished or to take any property not securing the debt;
- Threaten any legal action that they can’t legally take;
- Lie about who they are, what they are contacting you about.
You can also tell debt collectors to stop contacting you, though you have to do so in writing. Once that’s done, they may only contact you again to officially inform you that they will no longer attempt to contact you, or to tell you that they’re filing a lawsuit or taking other action (provided it’s lawful action) in order to collect the debt. They also can’t tell any third parties about your debt, with the exception of a spouse, your lawyer or credit reporting companies. That includes your boss.
Since Anderson is a third-party collector, the FDCPA applies to him and the company for which he works. Burke contacted a lawyer and found out what her rights were under federal law.
Then she sued. Not just for the unending calls, but also for repeated wisecracks he allegedly made to her about her weight. ABC News says that Anderson is adamant he didn’t do any of it. The reason the judgment went in Burke’s favor is because he didn’t bother to show up in court.
Anderson insists he’s not paying one cent of the $33,000 judgment against him because (WARNING: irony alert) he doesn’t have the money.
According to his version of events, Burke got into a physical fight with a woman he sent to her house to repossess the car, which made him angry. Burke, however, denies this allegation completely.
Burke says she isn’t going to waste time going after him for the $33,000, because winning the case and getting him off her back was enough to satisfy her.
If a debt collector is harassing you, check out these FAQs from the Federal Trade Commission to see what your rights are, and consider contacting an attorney as well.
Featured image courtesy of ABC News