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Debt Help

The Debt & Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Even When You Have Outstanding Debts, You Still Have Rights

debt collectorsThese days, it’s commonplace to swap telemarketer horror stories with friends and family; it’s as American as apple pie. However, wild bill collector stories are also becoming increasingly popular. With the average American carrying an average of $2500 in unsecured debt plus mortgages, many of us know the dread of receiving unpleasant calls from creditors, although we’re less willing to tell the tales.

An old friend of mine named Wes is one of the great storytellers - he has spent the last 5 or 6 years climbing out of debt. So, he has collected some war stories along the way. One creditor told him that he wasn’t a real man if he didn’t pay his bills, and another asked him whether or not he truly cared about his family. One debt collector actually called my friend 2-3 times a day, every single day, including Sundays, for months. These relentless predators had no idea what his situation was, nor did they care; they were simply looking for the right button to press to get them what they wanted. However, as bad as these instances were, they weren’t the worst of the worst. There was one case that topped them all.

One creditor showed up at Wes’ doorstep.

Unannounced, with no attempts to contact him by phone, an employee from a payday loan establishment knocked on the door, looking to collect. Ironically enough, Wes didn’t owe a lot of money, and he had only missed one payment. Apparently that was enough to send someone out on a bounty hunting expedition. As soon as Wes opened the door, the woman began talking a mile a minute about his commitment, how he hadn't been in to pay, and how she had come to pick up the money. The woman didn't even identify herself - she just started talking. Wes had to interrupt her just to find out who she was. Needless to say, my friend was highly offended, and told the collector that she had to leave his property and not come back. I couldn't believe that a guy who was doing everything he could to settle his debts in a timely manner (even when it meant occasionally robbing Peter to pay Paul) would have to be subjected to such treatment, as if he were evading repayment.

This kind of harassment should be illegal!

The good news is that it is. However, when consumers don’t know that they have rights, they surrender them. The following video explains how to respond when a debt collector has gone too far:



The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is designed to protect consumers against harassment, false claims, and fraud. You have the right to demand that creditors stop calling your home, to dispute the debt, and to receive, in writing, all the details concerning the debt owed. You also have the right to be treated respectfully and not harassed by debt collectors. Furthermore, if your consumer rights are violated by a creditor, you even have the right to sue them! The FTC says,

“You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney' s fees also can be recovered.”
Ironically enough, if you won your claim, you’d probably have to turn right back around and hand it over to the guys you just sued.

Ouch…

But at the end of the day, your dignity and privacy are worth fighting for, even if you only break even.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Gruesome Suicide Next Door

picture of apartment after fiery suicideI got home late last night, having spent the evening hanging out with friends. When I drove through the security gate of my apartment complex, I noticed some police activity at a building that's a good distance away from my building. I parked my car near my place, stepped into the house for a few minutes to rehydrate, then walked about a quarter mile to where I spotted the police cars. The police had just left, but Larry, a security guard I know, was still hanging around the building. I asked him what happened. At first, he didn't want to tell me because he was told by the cops to keep quiet about the details. But I was able to get him to talk with a little prodding and a bribe in the form of a can of Cherry Coke I had in the car.

Turns out there was a fire in a downstairs apartment. The blaze produced so much smoke that the building had to be evacuated. Larry told me that the fire started in the bathroom and spread throughout the apartment. A middle-aged woman had committed suicide. Apparently, she poured gasoline into the bathtub, jumped in then sparked up a cigarette lighter. Larry let me into the crime scene for a minute so that I could satisfy my curiosity. The electricity was out in the bathroom so I couldn't turn on any lights in there. I couldn't see anything in the bathroom, but I was able to see that the rest of the apartment was a complete mess. Larry told me that if I went into the bathroom with a flashlight, I would have been able to see burnt flesh everywhere.

So, obviously, my next question was why. I was almost certain that it had something to do with the stock market (it crashed last week) but I was wrong. Larry informed me that the suicide note made no mention of finances at all. The victim was distraught because her partner had recently ended their romantic relationship.

What a strange way to end one's life. Surely some pills or a handgun would have been far less painful. Why gasoline?

I don't believe in suicide, but I do believe that euthanasia is acceptable in some very extreme circumstances, like if an individual is in constant and overwhelming pain, and there is no other way to end the suffering. To force someone to life a full life in terrible pain is cruel and should not be permitted in any civilized nation.

Suicide because you were jilted by your partner? I can't go for that. Suicide because you lost all your money in the stock market? Give me a break. Suicide because some debt collectors won't stop calling? Please!

But it happens:



Know your rights! Debt collectors who call and harass consumers are breaking the law, and they know it. If you are being harassed, visit Nolo.com and download a Demand Collection Agency Cease Contact form. Cost is $4.99. Or use one of the many form letters available for free on the Internet.

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