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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Collecting peach of mind

“Hello,” the man grumbled into the phone.

“Mr. Samonsite?”

“Yes?”

“This is Lloyd Christmas from Vandelay Industries.  Are you still living on First Avenue?”

“Yes.  Who is this?”

“I’m calling regarding the $58.42 you owe for the Shake Weight Total Fitness Program.”

“I don’t have the money right now.”

“Where do you work?”

“I don’t have to tell you that.”

“Do you feel good about not paying your bills?”

“I don’t have the money right now?”

“If you don’t pay we may take further legal action on this claim.”

“For less than $60?”

“So when can you pay?”

“I don’t know.”

“I am required to let you know that this is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”

“Huh?”

“You have until this Friday to pay or we may take further legal action.”

While working as a bill collector during my college years, I quickly learned that not too many people are sympathetic to bill collectors.  To some, bill collectors are almost as loathsome as attorneys.  In fact, many attorneys are bill collectors.  Much like Irwin M. Fletcher, many collectors use an alias due to public disdain for their profession.  The alias was my favorite part of being a bill collector.  I was so in love with my newlywed wife that I used her maiden name as my alias.  While Jeff Brunson was a timid college student, Jeff Price was full of confidence and did his job with panache.  I was trained how to make a call, what phrases to uses, how to appeal to the consumer’s sense of morality, and, most importantly, to verify the consumer’s home address and place of employment.  That way, if a lawsuit was filed the collection agency would know where to serve the legal papers and would be set up to garnish wages once judgment was entered.

The current economic_________ (insert politically correct term here) has brought increased pressure to collect.  With cash down and accounts receivable way up, dealing with bill collectors is becoming common.  A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is designed to protect consumers from abusive collectors.  The FDCPA requires a collection agency to cease all collection efforts and provide proof of the debt if a consumer requests proof of the debt in writing.  Collectors cannot use or threaten violence.  Collectors may not use obscene, profane, or abusive language.  Collectors can’t publish lists of people who owe money.  Collectors cannot make repeated telephone calls intended to annoy, abuse, or harass.  Collectors cannot use false, deceptive, or misleading methods. 

Collection agencies are very aware of the law and train their employees to comply with it.  Business owners continue to use collection agencies because they get results.  This causes some to go right up to the line.  Just knowing the law exists, can be a benefit to consumers.  Often just the threat of a FDCPA violation is enough for a consumer to get a more favorable deal. The FDCPA allows a consumer to recover actual damages, statutory damages, attorney fees, and costs if a violation occurs.  Whether you are seeking to avoid Lloyd Christmas or obtain his services, knowing about the FDCPA puts you in a better position.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA.  Jeff is a trial lawyer who specializes in business disputes and estate litigation.  He can be reached at his Rexburg office (208) 359-5883 or jeff@beardstclair.com

Staff at 1:15 PM
Litigation
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