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Abusive Debt Collectors Informative - Local prosecution of abusive collectors.

Review by Doc J on 2006-07-25
Here it is kids. It’s not legal advice, so go to your local prosecutor for that. A regular commentator on the site (DebtorBasher) already detailed how debt buying hurts those with paid accounts or those who are victims of identity theft. I fully know that it’ll take the “right” prosecutor in the “right” state with the “right” complaining witness for this to put abusers on notice. But, once the ball gains momentum…who knows? Believe it or not, I also submit it on behalf of the diligent and decent collectors who perform a needed service humanely and within the bounds of law. Here goes…

Abusive collectors often justify offensive conduct because it “facilitates payment”. This argument is empty because physical assault would have the same effect. And, of course, battery is equally illegal to threats or criminal harassment.

We’ve all heard about abusive debt collectors targeting innocent victims having a recycled phone number, invalid “debts”, a similar name, or blood relation to people targeted by them. Worse, is the abusive collector who bullies a victim of identity theft with repeated daily/nightly calls, threats of arrest, cursing, and threats of social shame.

There’s new approach possible and it protects non-abusive collectors (Few prosecutors are willing to dabble in malicious prosecution). While other, traditional, mechanisms (i.e. FDCPA) exist to deal with abusive collectors, these rarely work because the fines are miniscule compared to the abusive collector’s income and it takes numerous complaints to trigger an investigation and sanctions…while the abuse plays on.

However, virtually every state prohibits using the telephone to threaten, harass, or abuse another party. Look for the topic in your telephone book. These laws usually target illegal calls made by family abusers, disgruntled employees, or social malcontents. The laws negate any defense that an abuser has a “legitimate” reason to call you and their prohibitions focus on the content of the call, number of calls, and times of the calls.

So, pursuing a criminal case against an individual, abusive collections employee may be an option. Ask how your local police, prosecutor’s office, and telephone service provider handle abusive and harassing calls and what evidence is required for a successful prosecution. You may encounter less than enthusiastic support because of bias. However, point out that abusive collectors are often target innocent victims and that all citizens have an expectation of protection from criminal conduct.

The services you need are free and the involved agencies are obligated to help crime victims. Prosecution targets the individual abuser, not the agency. It’s doubtful that a disreputable agency will aid their employee in a criminal case. Prosecutions will get the attention of other employees having a personal interest in avoiding criminal prosecution for “just doing my job”. Collection agencies engaging in abusive conduct as a policy can no longer blame-shift that it’s “only a few bad individuals” giving their industry a bad reputation. Employees of an agency having a policy promoting abuse know that they as individuals will bear the ultimate responsibility for their actions. Rogue employees of good agencies will be accountable.

State lines are not an impediment to prosecution. Threatening or harassing calls may be prosecuted at either the receiving or originating end (ask your prosecutor how it works). Extradition isn’t needed. A local bench warrant will haunt the abuser every time he/she changes jobs (frequently!) or is encountered by law enforcement. Jail time is not an uncommon penalty for telephone harassment or threats. It’s a sure bet that a local judge will not look favorably on some bully beating up the judge’s neighbors on his watch.

It’s a technique worth exploring and one that’s difficult to argue against unless you’re a fan of abusive collectors. It also brings the possibility that purchased debt may come with a history of criminal prosecution by an abused party…adding to the risk in buying junk debt. The abusive collectors count on your silence and “shame”. It’s time to pull the pin on the grenade they tossed you…and throw it back.
Comments:12 Replies - Latest reply on 2007-04-15
Posted by yoke on 2006-07-25:
This sheds a little light on to why people get some many phone calls for people who have not had the phone number for years. I know we have had the problem with 2 different bill collectors (Nelson Watson Assoc and SRA Accoc) on 2 different phone numbers looking for 2 different people. Talking to friends about the problem we were having they have been getting more and more phone calls looking for people they don't know also. Sounds like these bill collection agencies are popping up everywhere for a quick buck and before they make the first phone call do not do their job to make sure they have the right phone number (easy to do on the internet). The ones I have had to deal with hire the dumbest people and both have told me to prove to them I am not who they are looking for. In the future after the first phone call from these types of agencies I will send cease and detest letters. It is scary to think that personal information is going to anyone at this point. When you take out a credit card or loan you give out your most personal information and to think banks and credit card companies will sell it off for a quick dollar to anyone even. You have know idea who has acess to your information anymore. I am pretty sure that Nelson Watson( one of the loser agencies that called us) are making phone calls and hanging up. We can't prove it, but since we told Nelson Watson to stop calling we get hangups daily from "unknown caller".
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
The problem is, with the thousands of accounts they buy, they are not going to take the time to look each and every one up on the INTERNET to verify the phone number before calling...it's "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it"...they want the collectors to get on the phone and start as soon as they get them into the computer. Once they are told they have the wrong number, they should go thought the proper procedures to trace the correct number...this is where the harassment starts, when they are told over an over that they have the wrong number and they continue calling...or as you said, telling the person it is up to them to prove it's the wrong number.
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
Good post Doc!
Posted by warddw1526 on 2006-07-26:
I was trained to remove the number from the account if they say it is a wrong number. I do so in 99% of the situations. There are times like when the person id's themself as the debtor, until you tell them the reason for calling, then they say they are not them, that I might not remove the number.

Quick question though, could criminal charges be made across an international border? Many agencies are in other countries now.
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
I believe they can, however from what I understand the company would have to pay to have them flown over here to the States...Madeye would most likely know more about that than me...but this is what I heard...even though they are in another country, they are still to follow FDCPA and our State Laws.
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
Warddw, if that's the way you work your accounts, you are correct. I do the same..or if the debtor was contacted at that number two days ago and we spoke with them at that number (and verifing the info at that time)..then two days later we are told it is the wrong number, I don't remove it, especially if the person says they had that number for months...well, guess what, that person was in your house while you weren't home the other day then...LOL.
Posted by Doc J on 2006-07-26:
ward-Re: Abusive collectors located outside the US. For brevity, I omitted addressing this in the original post. Again, check with your local prosecutor's office as this isn't legal advice. Per a former Asst Prosecutor...virtually all of these companies have parent organizations within or are US owned with directors living inside US borders. She said "with the establishment of a pattern of abuse (suggesting an organized company policy condoning abuse) originating with a US-owned company, the case could be referred to a US Attorney for handling under the RICO act." RICO can also be a very powerful tool when dealing with off-shore criminal organizations. I honestly think it'll be a short wait before we seen an aggressive, career-minded prosecutor begin to take these cases for regular prosecution. To the cynics who think they're not seriously considering local prosecution as a remedy...Once upon a time, a man could beat his wife or rape her with impunity. "Husbands are immune" went the cry. Obviously, this is no longer true. As buyers of junk debt and fast buck artists within the collections industry have been emboldened, more people are being wrongly affected with their abuse. A few otherwise decent collectors have used the reputation of abusive agencies as a PR tool to assist in their collections without resorting to becoming abusive themselves. One related side comment...What about threats made by people contacted by abusive collectors? My group of experts uniformly agreed that prosecution of these individuals is very unlikely. Why? One police executive cited his state's "disorderly conduct" statute to as "any conduct that is so outrageous as to cause a reasonable person to breach the peace". All agreed that an abusive collector would be the party most likely prosecuted under similar "disorderly conduct" laws if their conduct so provoked an "otherwise peaceful" innocent party into making an untoward threat or comment. In summary...abusive collectors have few friends and even fewer friends exist for them in the law enforcement ranks or in a prosecutor's office. It's becoming in their interests to behave.
Posted by yoke on 2006-07-26:
DB, it takes less time to verify a phone number via the internet than it would to call a wrong number over and over again. I see what you are saying, but put yourself in my shoes. I pay my bills and yet I still get harassed by bill collectors for a person who has not had this phone number in over 5 years (therefore the debt is over 5 years old) and I have know idea as to who she is. I have a few choice words for her if I ever meet her. I got another call today for her and again I had tell the woman to do her job and verify that I am not the person she was looking for. She kept insisiting I was Kely Locke. My gut feeling is this law firm bought the account from Nelson Watson and Nelso Watson never updated their files. So when this law firm sells it to another debeat collector I will have to do it all over again. So yes, the collector should look online to verify they have the correct phone number. If a debt is over 5 years old there is a good chance that they have changed phone numbers and addresses. It may take a little more time, but there are innocent people out there who get your phone calls every couple of months otherwise. You may do your job fairly, but not everyone plays by the rules.
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
Yoke...I have been in your shoes, getting calls for people at my number and telling them over and over it was the wrong number...What I was saying is that they are not going to take the time to check every phone number on the internet BEFORE they call...BUT, once they are told the number is the wrong number, that is when they should remove it and put it through proper skip tracing, using the Internet or whatever other means they have.
Posted by yoke on 2006-07-26:
Db, thanks for letting me vent!
Posted by DebtorBasher on 2006-07-26:
That's what this site is here for.
Posted by voiceoff on 2007-04-15:
Great info. It amazes me that anyone would want to have a job in which he/she needs to be so nasty to be effective. I have come to belive that much debt is the result of old fashioned USURY made legal by the credit card company lobby. Not all, but too much.

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