The Trials Of Older Consumers With Debt Collectors

The Statistics

In its November 2014 report on debt collection complaints, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that since 2013, consumers have submitted more complaints about debt collection with the agency than about any other product or service. Older consumers, those aged 62 and above, also filed complaints about debt collection issues more than any other credit issue. Between July 10, 2013 and September 30, 2014 over one-third or all complaints by older consumers were about debt collection.

The Stories

By far the most frequent complaint was about debt collectors attempting to collect a debt not owed by the person being contacted. One older consumer complained that he received a large volume of phone calls about debts apparently owed by his ex-wife even though they were divorced 15 years before. He reported that after he filed written disputes with the debt collector the phones call increased. Many older consumer complaints state that debt collectors often have inadequate or inaccurate information about the debt and this makes it much more difficult for the consumer to resolve the dispute.

Older consumers also report that debt collectors use abusive communication tactics to intimidate, aggravate and coerce them. The CFPB report reveals that “older consumers complain that some debt collectors make repeated calls using profanity, condescension, indignation or rage, including use of derogatory names such as ‘deadbeat,’ ‘liar’ or ‘fraud.’”

Collection efforts over medical debt prompts frequent complaints by consumers. Debt collection efforts continue even when the consumer is in the middle of trying to correct billing mistakes or waiting for providers and insurers to resolve disputes. One hospital attempted to collect a debt of over $10,000 from a patient by sending numerous late payment notices even though the patient’s insurer assured him that he was not responsible for payment. He complained to the hospital’s billing department on numerous occasions without success. Eventually he hired a lawyer who challenged the hospital’s collection tactics. Then the hospital ceased its collection efforts aimed at the patient and resolved the claim with the insurer.

Many older consumers report that debt collectors often try to get them to pay debts of a deceased family member. But, it is important to know that family members are generally not liable for debts of a deceased or living family member unless they signed a guarantee of payment.

The Consumer Protection Laws

Consumers are protected by both federal and state laws. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes it illegal for a debt collector to engage in conduct designed to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt. Also illegal are the use of false, deceptive or misleading statements or use of unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt. They cannot use profanity nor can they falsely threaten to have you arrested or garnish your wages. Without your permission debt collectors cannot call before 8 AM or after 9 PM or call at work.

This federal law only governs third party debt collectors, not the original creditors. The Pennsylvania Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act extends these same prohibitions to collection efforts by the original creditor. So, in Pennsylvania, neither the original creditor nor a third party debt collector can engage in acts prohibited by these laws.

The Actions to Take

If you believe a debt collector is violating your rights, you should take these steps. First, learn more about your rights under these laws. A good resource is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website which offers straightforward answers and information about debtors’ rights.

If you want immediate relief talk with an attorney knowledgeable about debt collection for more detailed information about your rights. If you authorize your attorney to contact the debt collector in your behalf, the debt collector must stop contacting you directly. Debt collectors who violate these laws can be sued for damages plus attorney’s fees.

Finally, you may also file complaints about the a debt collector’s practices with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Pennsylvania Attorney General. They will not act as your attorney but they do promise to contact the debt collector for an answer to your complaint. Know your rights, assert your rights and then make a plan to resolve any debts you owe.