Aggressive, harassing and abusive bill collectors are a top consumer complaint in the United States. And if you're one of the 30 million Americans being pursued by a collection agency, sometimes fighting back can be frustrating.
But finally help has arrived.
Starting this year -- a new watchdog agency is now policing large collection firms.
Bill collectors sometimes call Kevin Lynn’s house up to 20 times a day! And get this -- the debt isn't even his.
"I always told them I don't owe the debt, they had the wrong person, that I don't know who the person is," he says.
But that person apparently lived in the house previously. Lynn's filed three lawsuits to get this ringing to stop. Even more frustrating, his phone company charges him for each incoming call.
"Very upset that I have to pay to be harassed."
The Federal Trade Commission says it got more than 150,000 complaints about debt collectors last year, that's more than any other industry.
Attorney Chris Koegel with the FTC says, "Some of our number one sources of complaints for consumers are for harassment and abuse calling too often, using profanity, making violent or abusive threats."
To crack down, a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, is going to start policing some of the largest collection agencies in the country.
How bad can some company's tactics get?
Attorneys representing consumers say bill collectors have left people threatening messages like these:
"I'm going ahead with a warrant for your arrest."
Audio of voice mail left for person:
"You will be behind bars for six months. And once you go behind the bars you may lose your job."
In an FTC lawsuit filed against one bill collector, a grieving mother said she was asked how she would feel if the funeral home dug up her son's body and "dropped it outside my house because I hadn't paid my debt."
Pat Morris with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals says, "Every industry is going to have bad apples."
The Debt Collection Trade Association says it wants those using abusive tactics weeded out so others can do the job right.
"Don't shoot the messenger,” says Morris. “We're here doing our job. We're here respecting laws and regulations and we treat consumers with respect."
The CFPB will have new authority to make sure large collection firms are:
- not harassing or deceiving consumers into paying debt
- and are using accurate data to pursue debts
Lynn says that's good news because he's still getting collection calls and feels helpless to do anything about the harassment!
"Americans definitely need a new watch dog to help them," he says.
The CFPB's new authority started January 2, 2013.
The FTC and CFPB will work together and share information and complaints it gets from consumers.