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The FDCPA in Action

Sample Debt Collection Call

Debt Collector: "Hello, can I speak to John Doe?"

You: "Can I ask who is calling?" Always ask who is calling. FDCPA guidelines specify debt collectors must identify themselves and the company they work for.

Debt Collector: "My name is James Harasser with ACME Collections. We represent Usury Credit Card Company. We are calling to discuss your delinquent VISA account ending in 1234."

You: "Please hold on while I record the call." That is if you choose to record conversations AND you live in an all-party recording state, of course. If you live in a one-party state, you can record away without being obligated to notify the debt collector. In an all-party state, by saying you will turn on your recording device, you give the debt collector the chance to refuse for the call to be recorded.

You: "Thank you. Now that the recording has begun, please state your name, company, phone number, and mailing address as well as the reason for your call?" If you live in a one-party state and are recording the call without the debt collector's knowledge, make sure you ask for this information again once the recording has begun. Whether you are recording the call or not, document the call in your call log.

Debt Collector: (Repeats contact information, etc.)

At this point you can do one of two things:

  1. You can state that you don't discuss financial matters on the phone and that if they wish to communicate with you regarding any financial matter they should do so in writing. Then hang up. You should follow up that verbal notice with a formal written request that they stop calling (a do-not-call sample letter can be found in the Resource Library). Send it certified mail with return receipt requested. If they continue to call after they receive the letter, repeat your do-not-call request verbally and record the violation in your call log.
  2. Or you can go violation fishing. Remember, now that you know your rights, a violation can be your ally in getting out of debt. The more documented violations you have against a collector, the more leverage you have to force them to zero out your debt and cease collection efforts!

So let's say you choose to go violation fishing:

You: "I don't recognize that account, but assuming the account is mine, what are my options? I have never been in this situation before." Remember, you never want to admit the debt is yours, but you also want to give them the chance to violate your rights. Play dumb, write down what they say, and compare what they say with the list of FDCPA violations above. When you go violation fishing, you are actually hoping they lie, harass, or even try to intimidate you and call you names—the more the better!

It is also important to note whether you have sent this particular debt collector a notification of dispute and verification/validation request. Remember, a debt collector is required by law to send you a dunning letter within five days of initially contacting you. Often they will send you this letter first, before calling.

Since we recommend you respond to all dunning letters with a dispute and verification/validation request, if the debt collector contacts you without properly answering your dispute, that's another violation. Document it!

Debt Collector: "Oh come on, you know this account is yours. Are you going to take responsibility for what you owe or not?" The debt collector's goal is to push you into acknowledging the debt. If they ask a second time (really, no matter how times they ask), simply restate your position.

You: "Look, I don't have access to my records right now and I have no way of verifying who you are, or whether I might owe you money." Your job is to get the debt collector off script and keep your answers vague and non-committal. Many debt collectors will try to scare, harass, guilt, and intimidate you into paying. Remember, when you go violation fishing you WANT them to violate your FDCPA rights, so play dumb and egg them on. Just make sure you keep in mind to not admit the debt is yours or give them any additional information such as where you bank, live, or work.

Debt Collector: "Can I at least get you to verify your address?"

You: "No. There is no way for me to verify who you are so I am not going to give out any personal information over the phone." Why shouldn't you provide your address? If you do, it makes it easier for the debt collector to serve you with a summons if they do decide to take you to court. Giving them banking or employment information makes it that much easier for them to enforce a judgment against you if they get one. Here are some other questions you might hear:

  • How much do you bring home every week?
  • Is your husband/wife employed? Who does he/she work for? How much does he/she make?
  • Do you get child support or alimony?
  • Do you own your home or rent?
  • How much is your mortgage/rent payment?
  • What cars do you own? Do you owe any money on your cars?
  • Where do you do your banking?
  • Do you have any other loans? How much do you owe?
  • Are you behind on your other bills too?
  • Can you borrow money from your family or friends?

Of course, it is always within your rights, at any time, to simply tell them you don't want to be contacted by phone anymore and hang up. Just make sure you follow up the verbal request with a written one sent certified mail with return receipt.

You may find yourself in a situation where you catch the debt collector in a violation. Say, for example, that you requested not to be contacted by phone and they continue to call you anyway. Perhaps they have failed to verify and validate the debt and they are still calling and reporting negatives to your cre still calling and reporting negatives to your credit report. It is perfectly appropriate to tell them—and get it on record—that your rights are being violated. For example:

You: "I disputed the debt you just referred to and have requested verification and validation. Contacting me before satisfying my request violates the FDCPA. If you continue to pursue collection of this debt I will have no choice but to report you to your state Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, and to pursue all legal remedies available to me." Then, hang up. Who knows, they might just put you in the high-hanging-fruit category. After all, there are plenty of others out there—who don't understand their rights under debt collection laws—who are ripe for the picking!

Watch out for statements like:

Debt Collector: "I know times are tough. Can you at least make a partial payment on this account? Even $10 might help keep my boss off your back for a couple months." Making a partial payment is an acknowledgement you are responsible for the debt and will create a contractual obligation where one didn't exist before (you had a contract with the original creditor, not the debt collector). Furthermore, paying a creditor even a dollar will reset the statue of limitations on your debt.

Debt Collector: "If I can show you a way to pay off this debt without having to go to court, will you be willing to work with me?" Never agree to discuss options unless you are thinking of settling the account. Even then, never admit that the debt is yours (more on this in the section on Debt Settlement).

Bottom line: never acknowledge or admit to anything, never make a payment to a debt collector unless you intend to settle your debt, and keep good notes in your call log.

> What if Your Rights Have Been Violated?

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