Radio Interview On Debt Collectors And Credit Reports
Radio Interview On Debt Collectors And Credit Reports
I was interviewed on the Steve and Leah Show sometime back and thought it might be helpful to you as they asked some excellent questions about debt collectors harassing Alabama consumers and also what to do about false credit reporting.
They were great to work with as it was my first time on radio.
They had a little fun with me at the end of the interview because of that… 🙂
Steve: We’re joined by John Watts from the Watts Law Group. John is here to tell us about our rights and what to do if you’re being harassed by a bill collector. There are some rights you have that the bill collectors may not want you to know about.
Hello, John. Welcome to the Steve and Leah Show.
John: Good morning. I appreciate you having me.
Steve: What constitutes harassment? If I owe a debt and I legitimately owe the debt and they’re calling me and saying, “Hey, Steve, we need a payment,” at what point does that become harassment?
John: It becomes harassment when they are calling so often that it’s just over and over. For example, if they’re calling four or five times a day, that can cross the line into harassment.
If they start threatening you, saying, “We’re going to put you in jail. We’re going to call your neighbors and co-workers,” that would become harassment.
If they start lying to you, that would be harassment.
Leah: What if they call me at work? If they call me at work and I’ve told them, “I don’t want you calling me at work,” they’re not allowed to, are they?
John: If you say, “I’m not allowed to receive these kinds of calls at work,” and then they call again, that violates the law. That would be harassment.
Steve: Let’s say you legitimately owe the money and maybe you’re unemployed or your situation has changed and you can’t meet that obligation. I understand when it becomes harassment now, based on what you’ve told us, John.
What recourse do they have? Can they sue you? If you say, “Don’t call me at work. You’re bothering me. I owe you the money, but go away,” what might happen?
Steve: But they can sue you, right?
John: They can sue you. They have that right to sue you, and that’s something consumers need to think about when they send what’s called a Cease and Desist letter. It’s a letter saying, “Don’t ever contact me again.” You may provoke them to sue you.
Steve: I think therein lies the intimidation with a lot of folks. You don’t want to force their hand. You want to avoid that suit if at all possible, but at the same time, you don’t want to be harassed by these people. Many times, we just take it because we don’t think we have any other option.
Leah: John, what do you call debt that is really old and is out of the statute of limitations, maybe doesn’t even belong to you, but it keeps getting sold over and over to different credit agencies? What do you call that?
John: Zombie debt. It’s like the late-night movies where the thing keeps coming back to life.
Leah: It keeps rising up to hurt you.
Steve: But if the statute of limitations has expired, how is it even relevant?
John: If the statute of limitations has expired, they can’t sue you or threaten to sue you. They can still keep it on your credit report, but only up to seven years.
What these people will sometimes do is call re-aging. One company will have it. It gets close to that seven years. Then they sell it to another company and that new company says, “Here’s the start date.” Now you have to go another seven years. It’s illegal for them to do that.
Leah: Zombie debt is a huge problem, isn’t it?
Leah: It keeps coming up over and over. How do you solve that, and who do you sue?
John: You have to dispute that with the credit bureaus. That’s Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If they get it off, great. If they don’t get it off, then you have three options: You can do nothing, you can dispute it again, or you can sue them. You sue the collection agency and you sue the credit bureaus that are keeping that false information on there.
Steve: If we legitimately owe this debt but we can’t pay it right now, what is the best course of action to take?
John: I think the best course is to maintain those lines of communication. Talk to the original creditor. If you’re dealing with a collection agency, talk to the collection agency. We all do this. Something bad happens and we just say, “I want to ignore that.”
Leah: I’ve never done that.
John: Me, either. It tends to produce bad results. We want to talk to them, but also we want to know what our rights are. There are a lot of legitimate debt collectors, but there are abusive debt collectors.
The ones who are abusive are banking on the fact that you don’t know what your rights are. They can cross the line. They can be overly aggressive and you won’t know they’ve done anything wrong.
Steve: Give us an overview, almost like our Bill of Rights, in terms of what we should expect.
John: When we’re dealing with a debt collector, I’ll just say three things. First, they should never lie to us. They can never lie in collecting the debt. If they say, “Steve, we’ve already sued you,” and they haven’t, that’s a lie. If they say, “We’re going to garnish your wages tomorrow,” and they haven’t sued you, that’s a lie.
The second thing is they can’t be unfair. That’s sort of a vague statement, but it’s also whatever strikes you in your core as being unfair. An example would be calling your neighbors or calling your ex-mother-in-law to say you owe this money.
Steve: I’ve had calls before from collectors looking for other people. They want information about those other people. They will call me because somehow I’m on the list of people who may know.
Leah: You may be the block party.
Steve: Where does that fall into this?
John: When they call somebody other than the person who owes the money, they can only ask for three things: the person’s home phone, home address, or place of employment.
Steve: That’s it.
John: That’s it. Now, they’ll often ask for other stuff. They’ll say, “Can you give a message to Bob? Can you have Bob call?” That’s not one of those three things. That’s illegal. They do it because it’s intimidating.
Imagine, you’re sitting there having dinner. There’s a knock on the door and it’s your neighbor from across the street. They say, “You need to call this guy.” A few minutes later, another neighbor comes and says, “You need to call this guy.” You start feeling the walls close in on you. You say, “I have to pay this debt.”
We don’t have any problem with legitimate debt collection, but when it goes over the line, it violates the law, that’s when it becomes a problem.
Steve: Can they call your workplace if you haven’t told them not to call your workplace? Could they call Clear Channel, where we work, and make whatever effort they need to make to collect the debt? Is that within the legal bounds of what they’re entitled to do?
John: They can call our work and ask to speak to us. Again, they can’t reveal that you owe a debt. If you tell them, “Look. I’m not allowed to receive these kinds of calls at work,” and they call again, that violates the law.
Steve: By the way, if anyone listening is owed money by Steve Shannon or Leah Brandon…
Leah: We’re not here.
Steve: What I was going to say was I just use Clear Channel as an example. We actually work for Cumulus Broadcasting. That’s where you would find us, just so you know.
Leah: Please make a note of it.
Steve: Did we work our way through the three Bill of Rights points that we need to make?
John: They can’t lie. They can’t be unfair. The third thing is they can’t treat us with a lack of respect or dignity. They can’t use profanity against us. This is a favorite of northern collection agencies when they call those of us in Alabama. They’ll say, “You’re just a dumb, inbred redneck.” That’s treating somebody with a lack of respect.
Steve: Don’t make me have to go up there. Those are fighting words.
John: They are. The idea is to provoke an emotional response to get us scared, embarrassed, angry and mad. When we get emotional, we’ll do things without thinking. Sometimes they can make people so mad. They’ll say, “You can’t afford to pay this,” and the person says, “I’ll show you! I’ll pay it right now.”
As silly as that sounds, their idea is to get you mad, angry, embarrassed or scared.
Steve: It works. The collection agency is successful if, at the end of the day, they collect on the debt. That’s a successful day.
Steve: What do we do? What recourse is there if we’ve experienced anything even close to those red flags you pointed out? What are we supposed to do?
John: There are a couple of things to do. You want to gather information so if you have a phone call from a collector, make a note of that.
Steve: We’ve got to be able to prove all those things you just said, right?
John: Right. You want to be able to prove it, so make notes of the conversation. Take a photograph of your caller ID if it shows eight calls today from this one number.
Steve: We can’t tape the calls, can we? That’s illegal.
John: We don’t recommend it. If you are going to tape them, just make sure that you tell the other person, “I’m taping this call. If you want to keep talking to me, I’m taping it.” That’s okay.
Leah: That’s probably a good way to blow them off.
John: Yes. A lot of times, it is.
Leah: Even if you’re not taping it. Say, “I’ll be taping this call. Go ahead, please.”
Steve: Throw in an occasional “beep, beep,” sound. It’s intimidating.
John: Gather that information, whether you’re taping it or making notes about it. That is the most important thing. Document things. Learn more about your rights. Ask yourself, “Did they cross the line, or is what they did okay?”
The final part is to take action. We can have all the knowledge in the world, but if we don’t do anything with it, then we might as well not know it.
Steve: A lot of information is important. I know a lot of people are in the car right now. They got some of it. A lot of people are thinking, “I could use this kind of information.” Where can anybody go to get more?
John: They can go to our website, www.AlabamaConsumer.com, or they can call my office at (205) 879-2447.
This afternoon, we’re having a teleseminar. It’s free, and I’ll talk for about an hour on this subject. They can call my office and get the call-in information. We’d be happy to have them join us for that.
Steve: We’ll link all that up at www.SteveAndLeahShow.com to make it easy.
Are you seeing an increase in this kind of activity and consumers complaining because of unemployment and a lot of people in dire straits?
John: Sure. With the economy, there’s more delinquent debt, but there’s fewer dollars to pay that. If you’re a debt collector, you have a choice to make. “Do I collect within the law or do I go beyond the law, shout a little bit louder and get paid?” That’s the temptation that these collection agencies face. They think, “I’ll violate the law because I have to get this person’s attention.”
Leah: If they don’t get money, they usually don’t get paid at all, right? Aren’t they paid on commission?
Steve: They’re highly motivated. How many of you owe some money and you’ve gotten a call from somebody who says, “You owe X number of dollars, but if you’ll pay today, we’ll settle for this amount,” and it’s less? When you get that kind of call, should you go with it, or are you falling into a trap?
Leah: Do you give them your credit card number?
Steve: If you do, can they just go in and take it all? It brings up a lot of questions.
John: I’ll answer it this way. I get emails that tell me that the daughter of a Nigerian general has $50 million she wants to run through my account and she’ll give me 10%. I haven’t seen that money yet. Occasionally, there are scams out there.
I always tell people to be very careful if you get a phone call or even a letter from somebody. Even thieves can call. Even thieves can write letters. Be very careful about who you give your money to. Make sure that this person really has the right to collect that debt.
Ask them to send you something in writing. The legitimate ones will. The ones who are not legitimate will say, “No, we can’t do that. It’s for today only. You have two hours to make a decision.” I would be very skeptical of that.
Leah: Tell me something. What’s to keep these debt collectors from buying old debt and going out there, outside the bounds of law, no company or whatever, making phone calls and getting money?
Steve: If Vinnie calls and threatens to break your kneecaps, get in touch with John Watts at the Watts Law Group, www.AlabamaConsumer.com. Good information. We appreciate it, John. By the way, John was a radio virgin. This was your first radio experience.
Leah: You did really good. You did a great job.
John: You guys made it easy.
Steve: Very nice. You’re no longer a radio virgin. Now you can go outside and smoke a cigarette with Leah.