Debunking The Debt Collectors' Spin Doctors

The nation’s economic woes make debt collection a topic du jour, but while there are some good bits mixed into the Washington Post’s article, “When Debt Collectors Disrupt Dinner,” it probably should have been titled “What Debt Collectors Would Like You To Say And Do When They Call About The Credit Card.” Read it with a shaker of salt. Read on for the good, the bad, and the lazy reporting, plus what you should actually to protect and exercise your rights as a debtor…

The Good: What You Should Do

The article does include some good information. For example, consumers should definitely never share bank account information with a debt collector. Doing so makes it a cinch for the debt collector to take payments right out of your account, even if you did not authorize one.

It never hurts to request verification, but it will not stop the collection in most cases. They will send what they have, and then start calling again.

Most importantly, you should take careful notes, record the calls if you can, and call a consumer rights lawyer. Because the FDCPA includes attorney fees and costs, most consumer rights lawyers will not charge clients up front; the bill will come out of any settlement, or the debt collector will pay it when you win your case.

I say this again and again and again, but getting a lawyer early in your case is the best way to protect your rights. As a foreclosed homeowner recently said “If you’re going to take my house away from me, you better own the note.” The same goes for credit card debt.

The Bad

The article says the FDCPA does not apply to debt buyers. Wrong. It does, as long as the debt buyer purchased the debt after default. In the case of credit cards, this is almost always the case. If a defaulted-debt buyer, violates the FDCPA, you can probably sue.

Henricks exhorts consumers to work out payment plans, neglecting to mention that consumers should first make sure the person calling actually has the right to collect the debt. He threatens—in quotation marks—that “failure to work out a repayment plan may result in legal actions such as wage garnishment or a judgment being filed.” Of course, the collector has to sue and win in order to get a judgment or garnish wages, no easy task when most collectors cannot prove the consumer ever incurred the debt.

Just Some Lazy Reporting

Nearly everyone interviewed in the article is a collection industry insider, from lobbyist Scott Talbot and Nat’l Assoc. of Retail Collection Attorneys president, the ironically-named Robert Markoff. The lone exception is the AARP’s project manager for consumer protection issues, Sally Hurme, who is quoted only once as saying it is difficult to settle debts. I think she would probably have more to say, given a chance.

The Silver Lining

The best thing in the article: Scott Talbot of the credit industry group (read: lobbyists), Financial Services Roundtable, says “There is going to be a consumer protection wave, which we support, that will sweep through Congress.”

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Sam Glover is a consumer rights lawyer, enemy of shady debt collectors, previous Consumerist contributor, and writes the Caveat Emptor blog. His column appears the first Monday of every month on Consumerist.

When Debt Collectors Disrupt Dinner [Washington Post] (Photo: mason bryant)