Discover's Debt Collectors' Threats Drive Woman To Suicide

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act starts out this way:

There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.

One of the things debt collection leads to that is missing to the FDCPA’s introduction is this: suicide.

It doesn’t happen “all the time,” but it does happen, sadly enough. The “credit card nation” documentary, Maxed Out, interviews several families of debt-related suicides, and talks with debtors who have seriously considered taking their own lives.

Indeed, death can be the only way out of debt, especially in the wake of the credit-industry-driven revisions to the bankruptcy code, BAPCA. Indeed, as recently seen here 20% of Americans think they will never escape debt.

The recent MacDermid decision from the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reads like a heartbreaking tale of debt collection gone wrong. Debt collectors working in-house for Discovery (thereby saving Discover from FDCPA claims), allegedly threated Ms. MacDermid with (among other things) jail time, going so far as to make up a relationship with the local prosecutor’s office. Here is what they said, according to the decision:

  • had spoken with a lady named “Harriott” who had told her that, under the facts described above, Mr. MacDermid is legally liable for his wife’s charge card; and
  • that she had filed a report with the Giles County Sheriff’s office; and
  • that Harriott Barkly of the Giles County District Attorney’s office, advised her that because the MacDermids were married, and because Mr. MacDermid was aware of his wife’s problem, he “should keep a better eye on her” and should “keep her away from the internet”; and
  • [that Adonica Gilmore stated about Mrs. MacDermid,] “I don’t think you want her going . . . well you know”; and
  • that there was no need for him to talk to a lawyer, because, even though there was no signature, and it was procured on the Internet, Mrs. MacDermid’s application is binding on Mr. MacDermid, and he is definitely liable; and
  • that [Adonica Gilmore stated], if the matter could not be resolved, “I’ll just call Harriott” . . . and have the authorities “take a little trip out to your house.”

These lies convinced Ms. MacDermid she had no choice but to take her life to save her husband from the debt she racked up.

In law, you take your “victim” as you find them. Ms. MacDermid was bipolar, but that was not her fault. That is why the Sixth Circuit found that Discover’s debt collection constituted “outrageous conduct,” and that Mr. MacDermid could therefore sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

You can read about the MacDermid case in more detail at Caveat Emptor, or read the case, complete with Ms. MacDermid’s suicide note, yourself. SAM GLOVER

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.