A Quick Overview of Basic Collection Laws
You become a “debtor” as soon as you have accumulated any amount of unpaid debt. You could have unexpected and uncontrollable medical debt, or you may have just decided to stop paying your bills. Either way, you’ll probably encounter a debt collector who is in charge of getting you to pay. As a contributing member of society, you should know the laws debt collectors abide to, as well as the consequences of not paying your debt. And there are plenty of each.
A Quick Overview of Basic Collection Laws photo by @cubmundo
Identifying a debt collector is simple. Agencies could possibly use a random phone number with your local zip code to call you, increasing the likelihood that you’ll answer. Automated dialer systems are the norm for call centers, so if you do answer you may be met with a “beep,” or silence before someone responds. That is the system recognizing that a human answered, then transferring your call to an available agent.
If you miss their call, they may leave you a voicemail. No debt collector has the right to disclose any sort of information over voice mails. If a legit collector leaves you a message, they will probably state their name (which is likely an alias for added security) and perhaps a business name, so long as it doesn’t reveal itself. A company called “Collection Resources, Inc.” would probably go by “CRI” in their messages. In theory, the debtor is familiar with the acronym and a third party listening wouldn’t be. Here’s an example:
“This message is for John Doe. This is Mary Smith with CRI. I have some personal business to discuss with you. Please return my call at 1-800-657-9987. Thank you.”
However, some agencies may leave long, drawn out voicemails in an attempt to relay urgency to the debtor without revealing their personal matters. Here is an example:
“This message is for John Doe. If this is not John Doe please disconnect. If this is John Doe please continue listening to this message (brief pause). If you are still listening to this message you acknowledge that you are John Doe. Mr. Doe, you should not listen to this message so others can hear as it contains private and personal information. There will now be a pause to allow you to listen in private (brief pause). This is Mary Smith with Collection Resources, Inc. I have a personal business matter to discuss with you. Please return my call at 1-800-657-9987. Thank you.”
People don’t want their financial situation exposed, especially medical debt. If a collector leaves you a voicemail saying that you owe so much to such company, you could legally sue that collection agency as well as the agent themselves.
If the agent gets you on the phone, they will have you verify your identity in some way shape or form. Legally, you must state that you are who they are looking to speak with for their recorded phone lines, otherwise they cannot tell you anything about who they are and why they are calling. Policy usually requires that you state information to the agent rather than just agreeing to the information they provide (more secure that way).
There will always be circumstances that warrant third party involvement. If you identify yourself as the legal spouse of the debtor (not just boyfriend/girlfriend or fiance), the agent can disclose any information you request. Agents can also disclose information to parents or legal guardians if the debtor is a minor. No collector has any right to disclose any information to any persons other than the debtor, unless the debtor has provided permission for the agent to discuss with the third party. Oral or written permission usually suffices. If you have power of attorney, you will need to provide proof.
Most collection companies will accept payments from a third party if they can provide the name of the debtor and the exact amount they would like to pay. Performing a transaction does not require the release of any information regarding the debt.
If you refuse to pay the collector, they will probably warn you of further collection activity, that your credit score will be affected, or that your wages and taxes may be garnished. In actuality, all those things could happen to you, under certain circumstances. The easiest way to get collectors to leave you alone is obviously to pay them. If you don’t (or can’t), the agency is obligated to act accordingly.