Dealing With Abusive Debt Collectors By Phone

When debt collectors violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:

1) Find a lawyer and fight back.
2) Play dumb on the phone so they think they can abuse you.
3) Take detailed notes and/or record the call.
4) Take them to court.

Number 3 isn’t mandatory, but represents a possible strategy to take if you want to go the “hang ’em by their hubris” route.

Remember, these guys only sound like they’re sanding their baseball bat on the other end of the phone. Most of them are weasels who couldn’t hack it as extras in an Elmore Leonard novel.

Previously: Pay Up, Deadbeat


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  1. strunkl says:

    Great advice. It wouldn’t hurt to know a little about the FDCPA (from your lawyer or the internets) before you start taking notes so that you know what to document: you can’t be called late at night, for example. Lawyers that deal with collections regularly can usually help you quickly and easily, but don’t be surprised when they want payment up front–after all, you’re accused of not paying your bills!

    Most people who manage late accounts for a living believe that the FDCPA is their friend: they don’t want to be an unscrupulous jerk, but if other debt collectors can be, the whole profession becomes a race to the bottom. Though I don’t work in banking or debt collection, I’ve attended some seminars that included speeches from debt collectors, and most of them agree that their job should be to help a debtor resolve any problems or misunderstandings with the account, and to make sure that everyone (including the debtor) sees the value in keeping a good payment history. They agree that intimidation is useless, and that once a debtor seems unwilling or unable to pay, the best course of action is to send in the lawyers, not browbeat somebody.

    There is certainly an underclass to the profession, and they are so unprofessional that most Americans hate them and identify with someone who refuses to pay their bills. The few stories of crazy, intimidating tactics, sometimes levied against someone who doesn’t owe any money, are easily remembered and tar the whole profession. These people aren’t scum because they are debt collectors; they are scum who happen to be debt collectors.

    In any event, most of the FDCPA is straightforward, and not easy to violate accidentally. Documenting a violation is a big deal, and gives the debtor a lot of leverage. Just be aware that laws regarding phone call recording vary from state to state. In some states, everyone on the line has to consent to the recording (just ask Linda Tripp).

  2. Paul D says:

    Or…you know…pay your damn bills.

  3. etinterrapax says:

    I’m getting a couple of other people’s bill collectors even though we’ve had this phone number for almost a year. I told them that I wasn’t who they were looking for. One of them accused me of lying outright and said she reached her party at this number in late May (when I was in the hospital having a baby–is there someone living in our attic and I just don’t know? Kelly Consalvo, is that you?!). They still call. I’m sort of waiting for them to do something egregious so I can sue. I mean, if I can’t convince them to check with 411 occasionally, they don’t deserve to get their money.

  4. Smoking Pope says:

    Coupla things… I commented on this last week and relayed a story about how a collector at UCB told my wife that I should skip expensive chemo so that she could pay the debt in question.

    First of all, I encourage people to record all calls with debt collectors. But make sure you know what the law is in your state. In Arizona, recording a call is legal as long as ONE of the parties is aware of it. Sweet.

    Second of all, to get a debt collector off your back, send them a written letter asking that all correspondence be done through the mail. By law they have to stop calling, and they will. Won’t mean you don’t owe the money, but it will stop abusive phone calls.

    Finally, if you’re receiving phone calls for people who used to have your phone number, have fun with it. Tell them he died in a fiery zeppelin accident. Or tell them he underwent an experimental procedure and put your dog on the line. Tell them you’ll speak to them as long as they don’t use the letter “R”. Life is short, be nutty.

  5. Ishmael says:


    I can relate. When my husband and I got our first place together, I started getting calls weekly from Discover Card for a lady who used to have my phone number. The first few times I politely told them that they had the wrong number. After two or three months, I finally got snarky. I told them that I had a Discover Card and that I paid the bill on time every month, and if they didn’t stop calling me about someone else’s debt, it wasn’t anything to me to cancel that bad boy and transfer the balance elsewhere. It turns out the person they were looking for lived in Louisiana, while I’m in Texas. Great detective work, guys! Shouldn’t it have been a clue when the area code goes to the wrong state?

  6. Smoking Pope says:

    @Paul D: Paying your damn bills is easier said than done in some cases, my friend.

    Without turning this into a pity party (which I don’t need, I’ve recovered nicely), I have a good paying job and health insurance and had no problem paying bills. Then my benefits got slashed at my job in order to avoid layoffs. Two months later, my wife got laid off 5 minutes after I was diagnosed with cancer.

    A series of events can land anyone in financial hot water.

  7. angela says:

    Smoking Pope:

    That was horrible of the collection company. Toyota Financial keeps
    calling for their $5,700.00 from my husband. They call my cell phone
    which I had before I married my husband. The last call was July 13th
    and I told the person over the phone that this is harassment.We told
    your company back in May not to call for the debit and Toyota is in hot
    water. I know that if a person askes a bill collector to stop calling
    your home, and work, they better heed your warning and listen. Instead
    the person (if I recalled right her name was Evette),said that she will
    keep calling until the debit is paid. I told her that she is in deep
    trouble here. Lawyer that is working on the case is giving the Toyota
    Financial Services a Final warning to back off…. I think that Bill
    Collectors are a big pain in the butt and they always get away with
    harassing you until you pay them what they want..

  8. RandomHookup says:

    Well, I don’t feel too bad about old phone mixups. For over a year, my long distance company was sending the bill on my unlisted phone number to whomever had the phone number before me. I didn’t chase them down to make me pay. I think I had some work related calls to Japan and Germany. Enjoy, Sprint…

  9. thrillhouse says:

    Ahhh, here’s a great topic.

    the FDCPA is great, but those slimeball collectors have many horrid methods that you are not protected from. Harrassment, for example, does not have a great deffinition and is difficult to charge them with. On the other hand, section 807: False or Misleading Information, is broken constantly. You can tell that these guys are lying if their mouth is moving. They lie about *everything*.

    Smoking Pope is right – its easy to say “just pay your pills”, untill life happens.

    Dave Ramsey Has great advice for handling these guys.
    One is to cut down on the communication. Tell them that you will only take their phone call once every 2 weeks. No more, period.
    Two, don’t let them get to you. Job 1 for these guys is to evoke strong emotion. If they get out of line, then just hang up.
    Third, all written correspondence should be sent ‘return reciept’. Its very easy for them to claim that they never got the letter. That includes any settlements, or to get them to stop calling you at work.
    Last, be careful about cutting off communication as it can trigger an instant lawsuit (which you will lose).
    Thats all I can remember off hand, listen to his radio show for more.

  10. Smoking Pope says:

    @Angela: Yeah, my wife was more than a little upset during an already trying time of her life.

    It’s my understanding that you need to request that phone calls stop in writing. A lot of debt collectors have a system that will cause people to continue to call you until the debt is paid in full, even if you have an arrangement to make monthly payments. It’s needless and annoying, and asking people to stop calling didn’t seem to work.

    Then I found a web site about the FDCPA that said you need to send it in writing. So I wrote a couple of letters that asked politely that all correspondence take place through the mail (I also used the specific term “cease and desist” and referred to the FDCPA). All the calls stopped. Every single one of them.

    Does anyone know what the statute of limitations is on debt collectors violating the FDCPA? It’s been 2+ years since I had that guy at UCB violate federal law (multiple times, multiple different violations), and I’d like to rattle their cage. But I’m not gonna bother if there’s nothing that can be done.

  11. Paul D says:

    Whatever. My sympathy runneth dry.

    I’ve been there. I had thousands in unsecured CC debt and was playing the “I’m not here” game when the collection calls started coming.

    I got my shit together, cut out nonessential expenses, and paid my minimums (at least) until I got a better job.

    I know the collectors have no right to get nasty, but they wouldn’t call at all if you paid the minimum on time.

  12. trixare4kids says:

    The person who had my home phone before me (you know who you are, Michelle W.), had some major financial issues. I had to deal with collection calls almost every day for the first year I had the phone. My outgoing message started with, “Hi. Looking for Michelle W? Yeah, you and half the world. Good luck on that because this is no longer her number.”

  13. Smoking Pope says:

    @Paul D: I agree that most of the time you can make the minimums and work behind the scenes to get caught up.

    My point is that a lot of people, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a situation where that’s not even possible. Life saving medicine vs. minimum payments? Hmmm, I know which way I’d go.

  14. wisernow says:

    It is both interesting and comforting to find people in the same boat. I have never missed a payment to any creditor. As a matter of fact, I have just recently paid off my home, and don’t have many bills. I did however find it neccessary to change my phone number because the previous number I had was that of someone who seemingly owed everyone in North America. The calls persisted for almost five years! Like others on this thread, I answered every call (and was polite) and kindly asked the collectors to update their records. They were polite also and assured me that they would; but the calls kept coming. After being pushed to the breaking point, I changed my number and to my amazement; the person who previously had my new number now owes money to debt collectors (although the number and frequency of calls are far less). Having been through the aggrevation (and after considering various legal/harrassment options), I have resolved to just ignoring the calls. Don’t give them the satisfaction of talking with them. This takes a lot of willpower, but I am convinced it is the best way to go. The debt collectors are calling for someone else, and obviously you are not responsible for that person’s debt. Again it does take willpower, but this is the most economical and least aggravating way to beat them. I have caller ID and if I am home when they call, I just don’t pick up. When I go on vacation, I turn off the answering machine. Maybe you aren’t in a position to do these things, but if you are, it transfers any aggrevation away from you and back to the debt collectors… where it belongs! Again, I recommend this course of action only because nothing else seems to work (they are a persistent bunch). Eventually, they will figure out that calling the number isn’t getting them anywhere and that perhaps they would get better results from hiring a detective to find the delinquent payer.

  15. ajobster says:

    We waited until our contract period expired and switched to Verizon. My wife and I canceled our T-mobil account because we were unable to get reception of their service IN OUR HOUSE (48112)? We’d get voice mails without the phone ringing and had to go outside to place calls in order to avoid non or dropped connections.

    We have started getting collection calls from a company called (BCR) claiming that we owe T-Mobil $170 for a warranty repair phone that was delivered to them in October 2007. Apparently, UPS misplaced the self addressed mailing envelope for almost 45 days before delivery. T-Mobil claims that violated their 30 requirement and WE have to take the matter up with UPS(Huh?) UPS would not speak with us because we are not the customer and we do not have authorization to speak on behalf of their client, T-Mobil.

    Meanwhile, the collection agency is refusing to send a letter acknowledging the claim amount due and has received instruction from T-Mobil to collect the charges, even though they have been disputed with proof of delivery, which we obtained from UPS’ website.

    None of this makes any sense and the circle jerk continues. Any ideas out there to resolve this?

  16. huadpe says:

    @Paul D: Not always even. If you’re the executor of an estate with any debts, this is useful information.

  17. RandomZero says:

    For the record, Canada also has some very nice protections in this field, though it’s at the provincial level and varies on some points. For instance, the warning that you WILL be sued if you cut off communication? Not if your collector’s calling from Ontario (416 and 613 area codes are most common, if visible). There, the collection agency can’t sue you – they can only suggest it to the company they’re collecting for, and only after sending you a written warning that they plan to do this. In Nova Scotia, they must cease ALL communication with you if you send them a written notice saying to talk to your “legal advisor”. There is no requirement that I am able to find that this person be a lawyer, or that you even identify them or give contact info. I am not a lawyer, but some of these things can make for interesting reading when you’re routinely getting someone else’s bad debt calls.

  18. dweebster says:

    @ajobster: IANAL, but if T-Mobile furnished you the SASE and their agent for collecting that phone was UPS and you have proof of performance within their specified time – then you owe Tmobile squat.

    I’d send (return receipt requested) a concise letter (including a copy of the UPS delivery info) to their President and CEO Robert P. Dotson
    stating that you delivered the phone to their contracted delivery agent within 30 days of receiving their “authorized” return envelope, and that you cannot be responsible for delays of ***their*** chosen delivery agent. Also state that if Tmobile believes that their contract with you makes you liable for delays of them or their agents, please reference the exact wording in your agreement so that you may discuss your next steps with an attorney.

    Bottom line: If Tmobile chose to send you something via UPS then UPS is acting on behalf of THEM and not you – and hence they must seek whatever compensation for the delay from UPS and not you – end of story, curl up and die Tmobile!