8/23/2012 3:15 PM ET|
Confessions of a debt collector
No one likes to hear from them, but debt collectors need to be dealt with the right way. Some veteran collectors explain why and offer debtors some advice.
For many Americans struggling with managing their debt, the simple act of picking up the phone can be terrifying. Why? Debt collectors.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the debt collection industry has seen a boom. And as more and more collection agencies have been entering the market, complaints about collectors' abusive practices have reached all-time highs. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Trade Commission saw a record-high number of consumer complaints about debt collectors in 2011: 164,361.
That rise in complaints doesn't necessarily mean collectors are getting meaner or breaking more laws. And, according to the four debt collectors we spoke to, the collection businesses they worked for followed the standards and laws set out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the legislation that tells collectors when and how they can contact you.
We've heard stories of overseas debt collector scams, debt collectors going after grieving parents for their son's debt and debt collectors calling people who don't even have debts. But we rarely hear stories about what it's like to actually be a debt collector.
So we spoke with four people about their experiences as debt collectors and what consumers should know when they get on the phone with them.
Death threats are part of the job
If there was one universal among all four debt collectors we spoke with, it was that death threats happen.
"One time someone mailed us human excrement in a box," said Kerri Fivecoat, a freelance journalist who worked in the debt collection industry for more than a decade. "It happened at the internal third-party agency I worked at. We always had lots of bomb scares."
Being a debt collector can be a scary experience, says Ben Nettleton, who used to work in a third-party collection agency in the Houston area. While his stint as a debt collector lasted only 89 days, he was left a very threatening voice mail one night by a man who called himself a "straight shooter."
"I got this and I'm not someone who's offended easily, but it did make me think," Nettleton said. "Does it throw you and kind of shake you? Yeah. I didn't call him back."
Death threats, combined with the emotional appeals from the people they call, make debt collection a tough career path. Bryan Franzoi, who is currently working as operations manager at Cumulus Funding and has spent more than 15 years in debt collections, said the housing market crash of 2008 and 2009 was especially tough.
"You're a human being, you're going to be affected by it. There have been times where it has been very upsetting to me," he said. When Franzoi was working as a manager of debt collectors, he even had an employee break down and start crying.
Michelle Dunn, a debt collector and author of "Dealing With Aggressive Debt Collectors: What to Do and How to Do It by an Industry Insider," says it's hard not to take consumers' threats personally, but the key is trying to understand the position the debtors are in.
"When somebody's in debt and they have bill collectors calling them, that's not their only problem. They normally have something else going on," Dunn says. "The last thing you need is a bill collector calling you. They may lash out on you. I've had people tell me they were going to find where my children went to school."
- Calculator: When will your debt be paid off?
Not all debt collectors are mean
Imagine going to a party and telling someone that you're a debt collector. It's not exactly the most popular career path.
"People cringe when you tell them what you do," Dunn says. "A lot of times you don't want to tell them what you do. They're only dealing with debt collectors when they're in a bad situation."
While most of the debt collectors Fivecoat worked with would try to take a calm and compassionate approach with debtors, there were a few bad eggs.
"There are people (who enjoy debt collection)," she says. "They would really get into what they were doing, and they didn't have the personality to start out with people being nice. Sometimes it was effective when they were being more forceful or more assertive."
Even though he has worked with some bad collectors, Franzoi said the stigma about debt collectors is just incorrect.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100, that's a totally wrong misconception, and they're really trying to put them in a better financial situation," he said.
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I have no sympathy for debt collectors/debt collecting agencies. I received calls from a collection agency as much as twelve times a day every damn day for over five months, and I had nothing to do with the debt. Didn't even know the person the agency was calling for, but did that make any difference? Hell no. They didn't listen when I told them over and over and over and over that they had the wrong number. When I filed a lawsuit against the company, I received a call from a "legal representative" of the company stating the calls would cease immediately. She apologized for "any misunderstanding that may have occurred". I told her to kiss my a**. I was going through with the lawsuit.
If I had owed a debt, I would have been able to understand their persistence, but, as I said, I had nothing to with the debt they were calling about or the person who owed it, and they didn't give a damn.
If you owe a debt, honor it. Pay it... if you can. Everyone falls on hard times at some point in life. But to the collection agencies and agents, kiss my a**. You all have no regard for the humanness of being or any sympathy for the people you harrass.
3 weeks after my father passed, a debt collecor for a credit card compay called my 79 yr od mom and told her my dad left a balance of 129.00 on his credit card, she tried to explain to the dirtbag that my fathers lawyer was handling all those issues and gave him the lawyers number, the scumbag continued to harass and bully my mom threatening to take the house car and all the money she had to live on until she was crying and scared to death
When my mom contacted me I set up a recorder and recorded all the calls from those dirtbags, the phone calls continued for 5 days with various dirtbags calling, once I had all the recordings, I called the collector myself, explained to him I had his voice threatening and old woman and even played back a clip of him calling my mother a loser and a thief, once he knew he wasnt dealing with an old lady he changed his tune and tried to be professional with me,
I asked where he was located and then told him Id be in NYC to meet him and threatened to beat him to a pulp then toss him out a window of the highrise he clamed to be located in, turns out he worked our a garage in new jersey
I turned the tapes over to my family lawyer and when he filed suit against them,
After getting a court order to cease and desist and being oredered to pay fines and restitution to my mom they did what all cockroaches do they closed up and slithered under their rock, Im sure they just changed company names and are back in business but it felt good to cause them grief for at least a few minutes
Debt collectors are dirt, and deserve to be beaten whenever pssible
This is a load of crap. I was on the verge of bankruptcy years ago and had no fewer than 12 debt collectors calling me daily. Every single person I talked to was rude, pushy, and often slinging insults - and the supervisers were, to a person, far, far worse than their underlings. They called me racial and homophobic slurs, denigrated my mother and father and on and on and on.
So I decided to screw them all and declare bankruptcy. They didn't get another penny from me - it's well worth it. Anyone in the situation of having debt collectors call them should strongly consider it.
Yes, people make death threats and the like, and frankly they ought not do this. But all debt collectors ARE "mean" people. They have chosen a dark, hateful career path that intentionally places them in a position of overbearing authority versus less fortunate people. People become employed in this industry by CHOICE! When a person is telling a new widow(or whatever bad situation you want to imagine) to put up or shut up, they put themself in that spot, nobody else did that.
But the biggest "tell" that this is written by those associated with debt collection is the notion that the "right way" to deal with debt collectors is to stay in touch. This may be true with some inescapable debt like student loans, but for a great many things this is not true at all. The only thing maintaining contact does is keep the "statute of limitation" from running out and lets them continue to repost to your credit rating. After a period of time, most debt must be written off entirely and no longer reported to credit bureaus--if you stay in touch, this day might not ever come and that is exactly what the hellbound heathens in debt collection want.
I went thru this about a decade ago. I find it's just best to ignore them if you can't pay, but if you can pay then you should.
I would not threaten with death threats, but I won't take any rudeness either. Rude debt collecters would get a quick hang up.... .
These collectors are an exception. There are people who take you to court and never once sent you a letter. What most collectors don't realize is that most of those debts have been around to other companies and majority of the debtors know this. They act if they just received the debt directly from the bank, but they do not realize that some people know these debts are put on auction blocks for investment companies to get. These investment companies may be private companies thatjust happened to be in the collection business. So these companies turn these invesments to their people, then if some of these debts aren't paid, then they go back into the auction block. and so on. I myself am dealing with one that is on its fifth collector and they don't even know the account number, or have any other information about the account eventhough they were asked to provide this 9 months ago. Then another can only get partial of what is asked of them and it isn't even according to FDCPA.
But you have people like the woman in this story, but let me make this clear. I guarantee you that the ones that she first talked to, if they couldn't pay anything, she would give the account to someone who will start calling day and night, and three and four times a day.
Basically what I am saying is, if you ask for proof of account with all the bells and whistles within 30 days, make sure that you have a notary public sign under your name and mail it certified return. This means they have to sign for it. Also they have to send everything you aked for not a partial list. If they do not send everything you asked for about the account, then send them a certified cease and desist letter telling them to quit bothering you. Also in your defense of the cease and desist letter you can tell them that this goes for all who buy the account hereafter. If you have to go to court over thisw then you have these nice records. And please don't forget if you are in one of the states that your SOL expires in 3 years of the date you last paid on the account to the original debtor, providing you have not paid anything on the debt to a collector and that starts your SOL all over.
Another awful story that actually did involve my family and not the mysterious Alfredo:
My aunt, my mother's sister, was hospitalized with blood clots and, sadly, passed away after a few days. She did not have insurance. A debt collector started calling OUR house incessently for several months (I guess since we're nex of kin) and tells my mom, who is devestated by her sister's death, the following over the course of the next few months (things got increasingly weird):
- You are responsible for paying your sister's medical bills
- We are going to take your house
- You killed your sister, didn't you? To steal all her money
- You are responsible for your sister's death and we are calling the police unless you pay us
- She isn't really dead, is she? You're lying. The death certificate is fake.
My mom knew that she was not legally responsible for these medical bills (or her sister's death) but we couldn't get the calls to stop for months, at all hours of the day and night. They never left messages. I tried to call them back to tell them to cease and desist but their callback number (from 411) was bogus. These people are disgusting and will do/say anything they can to make a profit off their bid to collect on people's debts.
My fiance has been a debt collector for the past nine years. And he will be the first to admit that there are some terrible, evil and law-breaking collectors out there. And he agrees it has gotten worse in recent years. And when we have gotten collection calls (often for bills that aren't ours, because I get tons of calls for another woman with a name very close to mine) from one of those nasty collectors, he is quick to point out that he is in the collection business, knows his rights, knows the laws, and will tell them where they are breaking the laws and/or treading on thin ground. Knowing your rights and letting a shady, nasty collector know it is one of the fastest ways to get them to either 1) stop calling you or 2) actually work with you to fix the issue.
But there are in fact collectors out there who are professional, will help you, will make recommendations and give advice on how to pay all your debts (not just the debt they are calling about), and so forth.
The problem is that the nasty collectors (as well as stereotypes about collectors) mean that many people just start off by being rude to the collector. So often my fiance will call someone (for the first time) and before he can even finish the spiel about how it's a call to collect a debt, the person starts screaming, swearing, firing death rights and refuses to even hold a normal conversation. And that behavior is not going to help you.
Trust me, I understand the desire to get angry. I've helped my mother deal with a truckload of nasty, lying, law-breaking collectors. But, you will never get anywhere by screaming at the collector before they can even talk to you. Being calm and reasonable means you are more likely to get a calm and reasonably collector. And if the collector is nasty? Ask for someone else. And if you are being harrassed, I strongly recommend educating yourself on your rights and then informing that nasty collector/collection agency that you know what those rights are. Nasty collectors are almost always the same ones who do less than legal things -- so the fastest way to get anywhere with them is being informed about what they can and cannot do.
Many collection agencies don't pay their own bills!
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