The American Debt Collector is a Shark
A shark can come into your life and rip it to shreds. Not a real shark, but an American debt collector, (many of whom act like loan sharks, and these people are called loan sharks for a reason.) Talk to any American debt collector over the phone and give him a bit of information and the above destruction is likely what will happen to your life.
American debt collectors have one goal and one goal only, to get as much money from you, as quickly as possible, with absolutely no regard for your health, your nonexistent wealth, or your physical or mental well-being.
I am an attorney who has handled a few debt collection cases, mainly as favors to friends who were being viciously attacked with sharklike ferocity.
Make no mistake, most American debt collectors are predators, as vicious as sharks. What debt collectors want is money. They want all of your money. And much like a vicious mugger on the street corner, they will take it with no regard for you, your family or any of your personal problems, no matter how severe they may be. In fact, I would say some even enjoy preying upon those who are most vulnerable amongst us; those who have fallen on hard times, due to bad luck, or something as unfortunate as a serious medical condition. They are the vultures circling.
Some debt collectors will slice your throat for $100. In the case of some small businesses who have taken out a certain kind of predatory loan, a debt collector will destroy you, your business, and everyone remotely associated with it, based on nothing but greed and a whim.
Read the Bloomberg, five part series entitled: Sign Here to Lose Everything, if you want a complete rundown, of how legal loansharks operate and destroy the lives of small business owners. It’s really not the topic of this article here, but what has happened to America’s small businesses as a result of these debt collectors as so obscenely outrageous, I feel it’s just something you need to know.
It also illustrates how many debt collectors have a vicious, take no prisoners mentality. This mentality can impact even the non-small business owner, should he every get a judgment against him.
And here’s the crazy thing about debt collection in America. You don’t have to even owe the debt. All you have to be is intimidated by a debt collectors insistence that you owe the debt; and you become a target for a vicious shark who has locked on to the scent of prey. Once they sniff that fear on you: it’s over. Debt collectors sense fear like sharks smell blood in the water. Once they get a whiff, it’s over for you, unless you’ve got a boat, that can transport you out of that bloody water.
Most Americans who are in debt are either home-owners or consumers (with consumer debt or educational debt).
With regard to consumer debt, all Americans have a boat. That boat is your own knowledge of consumer debt collection systems. You must understand how they work; and how to avoid the vicious crooks in these systems. As a public service announcement, I am going to throw out five hard and fast rules about dealing with debt collectors. These rules will keep you out of shark infested waters. Ignore them at your own peril and demise.
Rule Number 1- Never, Ever, EVER…talk to a Debt Collector Over the Phone
Debt collectors love, love, love to call you on the phone. Many love to threaten you over the phone. Many of them make all kinds of illegal threats to you over the phone. They cannot threaten to serve you at your job over the phone, if they have no intent of actually doing that. But they often make these threats, to frighten and intimidate people into paying them money.
They cannot call your supervisor at your job about your debt; but they will often threaten to do so over the phone. Your debt is your personal business, but they will threaten to share that personal business, with your boss, your mom, your dad, your cat, your dog. They will threaten to shout about your debt from the rooftop if they believe that this will embarass you or frighten you into paying the debt.
Read up on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, passed in 1977, to understand that there are legal and illegal ways to collect a debt. There are many, many things a debt collector cannot do legally, but he will certainly resort to doing as quickly as possible if he believes that he can collect on the debt this way.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a law that most debt collection companies love to ignore. They hate this law. The minute you mention that you know anything about this law, a certain type of debt collector will hang up the phone immediately because he knows that he has violated it in his phone conversation with you. Trust. I’ve had this conversation with these kind of debt collectors, who have tried to intimidate me into paying someone else’s debt.
Taking a huge chunk out of someone else’s boat ? It’s not a problem for most debt collectors. Debt collectors will go after people who do not even owe the debt, if they believe that they can get money from them. The goal of the debt collector is simply to get money, by any means necessary; as long as they meet their quotas.
Debt collecting is stressful, miserable work, done by stressed out, miserable employees; and honestly a lot of their working conditions are criminal. These people are often just passing on the misery of their own experience; and this is the reason it is best not to interact with them via telephone, as they really try to drag you down to their level of misery if only over the phone.
And…who needs that?
Debt collectors love for consumers to be totally ignorant about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, because they know that when you don’t know about this law, you are a mark. You are someone who can be easily threatened and conned into falling for whatever.
Learn the law. This is your boat. Most people have no idea that this law even exists, and certainly have no idea what debt collection practices it forbids. This ignorance is akin to swimming in bloody shark infested waters, without a boat.
This law is the reason why debt collectors love to call folks on the phone, as opposed to coming after them via legal means. The telephone is absolutely the easiest method for a certain kind of debt collector to use in collection attempts. Over the phone, they can make all kinds of illegal threats. Over the phone they can get away with threatening to kidnap your first born child if you fail to pay whatever is being asked. They do all of this with impunity, because with a phone call there is absolutely no proof that they have done anything illegal unless you record the phone call. (Also, a nasty voicemail message left on an I-phone, will serve as a kid of recording, via the automatic transcript of the voicemail message left.)
But here are some things you need to understand about this phone call. If a debt collector calls you, then, most likely, they haven’t even met the very first requirement of third party debt collection. A debt collector has to prove that you actually owe the debt. This is a very important component of debt collection that is often entirely overlooked by both the third-party debt collector and the debtor, a debt collector must prove that you owe the debt. A lot of third party debt collectors don’t have this proof. If a debt collector contacts you, claiming that you owe a debt, the first thing to do is ask for proof of the debt. The process needs to start there.
So as soon as a debt collector calls you, if they are legit, they will start with the phone call with: this is an attempt to collect a debt.
Okay, listen to me very carefully, do you want to stay out of shark infested waters and in your boat? If so, your immediate response should be this:
I dispute the debt. Please send me, in writing, proof that I owe this debt.
And after that, do not continue the conversation. Just don’t do it! Do not engage with the debt collector over the phone, no matter what he says. If he threatens to sue you, then you respond, I will wait to be served: and hang up.
There are all kinds of formal processes a debt collector must go through in order to sue you. One of these steps is serving you papers that essentially state that you owe a debt, and request that you show up in court to explain whether you do or do not owe the debt. Proof of this debt should be included in the paperwork that you receive. Typically, in most states, this paperwork will be placed on the front door of your residence, (and not at work).
You can be served at other places other than your residence, but that just involves someone walking up to you, handing you the paper work, and saying something to the effect of “you are being served with papers for collection of a debt.”
There are all kinds of rules of proper service that must be followed. Proper service takes time and effort. Most debt collectors are not going to take the time or make the effort to file suit unless the debt is large enough to be worth the effort.
I’d say the $1500 dollar range is what will get a debt collector into bothering with this particular pursuit. Although, I have seen suits for smaller amounts, the smallest amount I have seen was around $200. There is a reason for this, that I will explain, in a bit, under Rule 4.
But the first rule stay is your boat! Just stay in the damn boat! That is to say don’t talk to the debt collector via the phone. Just do not do it! There is everything in it for the debt collector, and absolutely nothing in it for you. Do not do this. Just don’t. If you want to correspond with the debt collector, then do it in writing. Debt collection is largely a legal process, and in legal processes what is most important is proof. Do you know what is not proof? Your telephone conversation with any given debt collector.
I absolutely despise when clients want to tell me about these conversations. These conversations mean nothing to me, and even less to you if you are someone who wants to pay off a debt you owe. They prove absolutely nothing. Many times they don’t even alleviate the debt that you owe.
What happens with these phone calls is that you end up paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars to a third-party debt collector who will keep you on the hook for payments endlessly, if they can. Understand that a third-party debt collector IS NOT, the individual to whom you actually owe the debt. When you deal with these individuals you are actually doing nothing to remedy the debt that you owe. That debt was written off and sold to a shark for pennies on the dollar. These sharks swim in waters trying to smell blood and when they smell it, they go in for the attack.
All these conversations with these sharks prove is that you were stupid enough to jump out of your boat, into shark infested waters. That’s all.
Rule Number 2- Don’t Give ANY information to a Debt Collector
Okay, so let’s say you essentially ignored Rule 1. You jumped out of your damn boat because you think you can swim really well. (No one can out swim a shark, though come on!) But you’re out of the boat, (talking to to the debt collector over the phone.) The conversation will likely go something like this:
“You took out a loan for $200 in August of 2018…and as a result of legal fees and interests, you now owe us $2000.”
Some debt collectors will tack on an outrageous amount for (interest, legal fees, and processing fees, related to the debt.)
“But, we can strike a deal right now. If you pay us $600, right now, we will consider the debt paid in full.”
No they won’t. They will take your $600 like a thief in the night and do absolutely nothing to indicate that you have paid off this debt. Why would they? If you are stupid enough to give them money, without requesting any proof at all that you owe the debt, they know that they have found a sucker. They know that they can call you again, in two more months and maybe run this scam on you indefinitely. They will certainly try.
Collectors are slick. They get a lot of people to go for this. People are just really afraid of legal processes, (which ironically enough, are no where near as frightening as these debt collectors!) Often out of a desire to not encounter any legal process, people who owe debts will agree to almost anything over the phone.
This is a mistake. Please, please, please do not enter into any legal agreement with a debt collector over the phone. Do not provide any debt collector any information about yourself. Do not tell a debt collector where you live or where you work. Do not provide a debt collector with your debit card number, or your bank routing or accounting number. Do not provide a debt collector with any financial information of any kind. You will deeply regret this. Trust me.
All information that you provide to a debt collector will likely be used to financially harm you, badly. Over the phone agreements by these debt collectors are cleverly designed, to give these debt collectors a loophole that will allow them to perpetually stay in your bank account, for reasons that they constantly manufacture. They will forever and always be trying to stick their hands into your pocket. (And depending on what you agreed to, often they will get it.)
After you receive and sign the agreement (that they sent to your email because you gave them your email, you dummy) they will begin reaching into your account and stealing your money immediately. This is barely legal, but this is their way.
A debt collector contacted a friend of mine threatening to come up to his job and serve him with papers unless the collector received a payment immediately. The friend, terrified of being embarassed in this way, agreed to pay $1200 on a $200 loan, (via an agreement he made via the phone). He gave the scam artists debt collector his debit card number. He contacted me immediately after the encounter.
I said to the client, (just a friend really) cancel the debit card, and don’t ever do anything that stupid again. Give me the number of this so called debt collector, and I will speak to him on your behalf, as your attorney.
I called the debt collector back, stating that I was an attorney representing the client. I expressed that I had concerns about the validity of the telephone agreement that had been made with the client. I explained that any legally enforceable deal needed to be in writing, and signed by the client. I requested a copy of this agreement, as well as proof that the debt was even owed by my client.
This particular debt collector, began engaging in a very smooth and very sweet form of jibber-jabber, whereby he spoke to none of my concerns, while confidently assuring me that the deal between his agency and my client was totally legitimate. He stated that the client had already agreed to it, and had been emailed the details. Nothing further could be done about it. I responded,
I knew full well that due to the cancellation of the debit card, the debt collector would be collecting no money, and so in fact something could, and had been done about it.
No need to argue with this super smug individual, however. I simply requested that the collector also send the agreement to my attention. (Of course that never happened, but the client forwarded to me what he had received.) I informed him that I would be looking over the details of the agreement, and deciding with my client what additional action, if any, needed to be taken.
The “agreement” was basically a statement that my client owed the debt collector directly $1200. There was no mention of the original debt, nor any mention of what the $1200 debt owed to the collection agency was even for. The agreement consisted of a three sentence statement, that the debt collector was owed this amount, and that in order to satisfy this debt $200 would be removed from the client’s bank account bi-weekly until paid in full.
What a racket!
The following day, (this is so funny) when the debt collector realized that he was not collecting his commission on the $1200, the he called me enraged. He was screaming and screeching about how I had: “just bought my client a vicious lawsuit!” And he threatened to “destroy, and eviscerate my client” by generally doing a lot of really unpleasant things to him because of my interference in this matter.
I simply responded, “By all means do that. We will wait to be properly served.”
I also mentioned that, incidentally, in his phone calls to my client, he had violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, by threatening my client in this way; and that I was recording the conversation. I also mentioned that I was googling this particular debt collection agency with regard to their record on unfair debt collection practices. I threatened to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
With this bit of news, the debt collector hung up abruptly. And while he had huffed and puffed with extraordinary bluster about how I had destroyed my client’s life, by advising him to cancel his debit card, I knew my client would never hear from this loser debt collection agency. It had no proof of the original debt, and without that, it basically had no legal basis on which to collect anything from the client. Yes you heard me nothing. Yet, it almost conned the client out of $1200. How and why? Well the client got out of the boat. He got bit by a shark, and he survived, primarily unscathed. This does not happen to most people.
Just Stay in the damn boat.
Rule Number 3— Always, Always, Always Dispute the Debt
Do you want to do more than just stay in the boat? Do you want to paddle swiftly away from the sharks in the water? If you want to get away from these debt collectors completely unscathed, just ignoring them may work.
So there are a lot of people out there, right now, I’m sure, saying (because I heard this all before) but Amli! I owe the debt! I have to pay back the debt! I just gotta!
And to that I would respond that you owed the debt to the the original lender. If you are having difficulty repaying an original lender then by all means attempt to work out some sort of payment plan with them, (but again, do so in writing.)
But once your debt has gone into collections, the damage has pretty much been done. What happens at this point, is the original lender says:
I lent out money to this person, but I can’t collect on it. I am done trying. This individual was a bad bet, government, please give me a credit on my taxes for this bad debt.
At that point, there is almost no upside to paying off the debt, unless the point is to feel better about yourself personally or to get something you want. (Certain mortgage lenders will require you pay off any debts reported to collection agencies before issuing a mortgage.)
Your debt is no longer with the original lender. Your debt was purchased by a shark. Trust me when I tell you- you owe them nothing! The original lender wrote off your debt and then sold it to a shark, that has the demeanor of a cocaine-addicted gambler. The gamble is your $3000 debt (purchased for $300 dollars, remember this when making a settlement offer) will pay off. This gambler will try to make $12,000 off of your $3000, that he purchased for $300. Like most addicts and gamblers, these kinds debt collectors can never get enough. If you let them into your life, they will never want to stop preying on you.
So, stay in your boat. As soon as you are contacted by one fo these sharks, dispute the debt, as soon as they contact you. Write a letter or an email (and always keep a copy) explaining why you dispute the debt. This is usually pretty easy to do, as most third party lenders attempt to tack on all sorts of ridiculous fees that are often not permissable under state laws. You can simply state something along the lines of: this is not the amount that I owed to the original lender, and these additional fees are questionable.
Now this is very important: Dispute the debt in writing; and keep a copy of your letter disputing the debt. What you are doing here is very important. You are creating evidence. (A phone call is not evidence.) The evidence that you are creating shows that there are issues with this debt.
While the legal process may seem intimidating, it is there to protect you from these unscrupulous types! As soon as you are contacted regarding any debt from one of these types, start rowing your boat! Create evidence that shows you are disputing the debt that they say you owe. It is important to create this evidence as soon as they contact you. Only agree to communicate with debt collectors, in writing. This alone is enough to scare many of them off. They may or may not have all that is necessary to engage you in a full on legal process, because remember, a debt collector is not the one who lent you the money. The third party debt collector may not even have bought the debt. It may have just scoured databases for information on old debts, and are attempting to collect on these old debts without any right to do so.
At best, all a third party debt collector did was make a bet. It is a gambler, trying to make the gamble pay off. It will do so by any means necessary; but the legal avenues are the least attractive ones to debt collectors. They actually require the debt collector to put in a little bit of work.
If the debt collector understands that you are going to kick back, using your legal rights, often times this is just too much headache and the debt collector will just leave you alone.
Rule Number 4— Always Seek a Settlement to Avoid a Judgment
However, there is one type of debt collector who absolutely will not leave you alone…not even if you know all of your rights under the law; because clearly they know them better. These debt collectors are lawyers. (Often very wealthy and very crooked lawyers.) Much like the organized criminals, they know how to manipulate and grease the legal machine against you so that they can get into your pocket indefinitely.
How do they do this? By securing a judgment. Do you want to make it so that every single time you get in your boat, jaws is able to come up along side you and break your boat in half? Then, by all means, allow a law firm to secure a judgement against you.
Remember when I said, I have seen law suits for amounts as low as $200? Who brings these law suits? Debt collectors who are lawyers. They do so because they want to secure a judgment. A judgment is basically a piece of paper that allows a debt collector to take whatever it wants from a client, for as long as it likes. When dealing with particularly shady, grimy, greasy, sleazy criminal style law firms, this is like legal robbery.
If you want to know the names of these law firms, just google questionable or unethical debt collection practices. They will pop up. The complaints against these firms are legion. They do not care. Usually these firms have nationwide practices dedicated to nothing but debt collection. When dealing with one of these, it is probably best to consult with an attorney. You need to do whatever you can to avoid the judgment, because once they have the judgment, they can make your life absolutely miserable What happened to my friend above, over the phone is child’s play compared to the absolute havoc I’ve seen these criminals reap on the unsuspecting consumer, against whom they manufactured a bogus judgement. They target the poor and undereducated, and absolutely wreak havoc. The lesson?
DO NOT LET THEM GET A JUDGMENT!
This is so important! A judgement is like a key to your house (actually your bank accounts, your check books, your pay checks) that allows these debt collectors to violate you whenever they please; (and they often do it arrogantly and gleefully; you would not believe the kind of verbal abuse I have seen these types engage in against the client.)
How do you avoid a judgement? You do everything above. You dispute the debt immediately and in writing — and then you try to work out a payment plan that settles your debt, and keeps you out of court. Unlike the non-lawyers these debt collectors don’t mind court. All day, every day, they are in court getting judgments against the innocent and unsuspecting by the boatload, as most people do not show up to contest a request for judgment. This is a mistake! If you receive legal papers seeking a judgement against you, make sure that you go to court to dispute the debt, to avoid judgment!
At least make it difficult for these crooks to get in your pocket. If you don’t go to court to dispute the debt, a judgment will be issued; and you will have jaws tracking you, every single time you get in your boat!
Dispute the debt. All this requires, is that you go to court at the time of your appropriate court date, and say to the judge something to the effect of:
I dispute this debt.
In most jurisdictions, there is not going to be a trial right then and there. The judge will likely say: “Okay, then let’s set this for trial.”
You will receive instructions from the bailiff on how to proceed from that point forward. Usually the debt collector is asked to provide evidence that you actually owe the money that he is requesting by a certain date. You, the debtor, are asked respond to this evidence presented; and also asked to provide evidence of your defense (that the amount owed is not correct, for example). At a later date a trial will be set. This process, in Virginia, takes about two months, to play out. (And Virginia is called the rocket docket, in many places it takes much longer.)
And so, when you show up to court to dispute the debt, what you have bought yourself is time. You have delayed the judgment, and you are making these shady, crook lawyers work for it. They will be annoyed for sure, as they are so accustomed to getting in pockets super easily, without any resistance. Your goal, however, is to keep them out of your pockets for as long as you can, and to get them out of your life for good.
The easiest way to do this, is to use the time that you have bought by disputing he debt, to settle the debt for an amount that you can afford and they can live with. But this does actually take some legal finesse. You probably will need to consult with an attorney or retain an attorney to properly do this.
If you can’t afford one, google probono services in your state. There are lawyers and law firms who will represent you free of charge. The Probono Resource Center of Maryland runs a few consumer protection clinics that offer free representation to those being sued over consumer debt. These clinics run very efficiently and smoothly for the client. If you get sued over a debt a Maryland, definitely look into it.
Rule Number 5 - Always Get Any Deal with a Debt Collector in Writing
Finally, if you are able to get a settlement prior to a judgment, please get it in writing; and make sure that the terms are terms you can meet. If you can’t settle the debt all at once for an affordable lump sum, then request affordable monthly payments for a certain amount of months until the debt is paid in full.
The agreement should state when the monthly payment should be due, each month; and also, it should be very clear when the last payment is due and you are done. Often times, these agreements will carry stipulations that one missed payment will cause the debt to revert to its original state in its entirety, regardless of how much you have paid on it. In a sense it is a trap to try and keep you on the hook for the full amount of the debt, indefinitely.
Keep that in mind and try to pull off the settlement agreement as quickly as possible. Just get your boat out of the water entirely!
Well there you have it! Five simple rules not to be eaten alive by debt collectors, before they receive a judgment against you.
What about the treacherous waters you’re in once you have a judgment against you? Let me explain what that is like, the sharks have taken a chunk out of your boat, and you’re in the water, trying to swim away; and you might make it.
But yet and still, you can’t escape these waters entirely…there is a tracker on you. You will be drawn back into these shark infested waters. In order to navigate those waters, you’re definitely going to need a bigger boat!