Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are Debt Collectors out of Control?

It all started with a call from a potential client. When the call started, I could tell it was going to be a long conversation. The call was from an elderly woman who sounded as if she was at her wits end. As she told her story, I realized that I had to see if I could help.

Her daughter had gotten into drugs and stolen her identity. She had taken out credit cards and incurred debt in her mother’s name. When her mother found out, she talked with her daughter and told her that there must be consequences for her actions. She contacted the police and filed a complaint against her daughter. This was a difficult decision as she loved her daughter and realized that her actions would effect her daughter’s life. However, she was even more concerned if she did nothing to get her daughter's life turned around. Ultimately, her daughter plead guilty and entered into a restitution agreement.

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Shortly thereafter, the mother and true victim began getting calls and letters from debt collectors. She explained the situation to them. She provided them a copy of the complaint she filed. She provided them with a copy of the guilty plea. She even obtained a letter from the District Attorney who prosecuted her daughter describing what happened and stating that she was not now, or had she ever been, a participant in the fraud and in fact, was a victim.

These collectors did not care. Day and night they called. They called at home. They called at work. They even called at her husband’s work. They threatened to garnish her wages. They threatened to take her house. They threatened just about everything you could threaten.

She then went to an attorney. She paid him thousands of dollars to write letters to these people in hopes that would stop the harassment. Nothing seemed to work.

Somehow she found me late one afternoon. Up until this point in time, I had never handled a case like this one. I researched the issues and began looking at consumer sites such as

Ultimately, I determined that nothing short of a lawsuit would stop this abuse. I filed suit against the various creditors and debt collectors. Immediately, creditors began to remove negatively reported information.

I then began to receive the first of what has become common in these types of cases. The attorneys for the various creditors and debt collectors call and say they cannot find my client’s account, their client has no record of any calls to my client. They would never call at work. My client must be mistaken. Fortunately, my client had kept recordings from her answering machine and had co-workers listen in on conversations. Ultimately, we settled with the debt companies and collectors. My client received economic compensation and on some level, felt vindicated.

Since that time, I have represented a number of client’s in these types of transactions.

I advise them all to do the following:

1. Document every conversation
2. Document any phone number which calls them
3. Retain all letters received from any bill collectors
4. Dispute all accounts with the various Credit Reporting Agencies
5. Obtain a police report
6. Send a letter, certified mail, to each creditor and debt collection company

I also tell my clients to be prepared to receive more harassing calls and letters stating that the creditor or debt collectors have completed their investigation and determined that they owe the debt.

To understand why this occurs, consumers need to know more about how the industry works. Stay tuned to future postings about how the industry operates, the tactics they use, and where to go for help.

Chris Hellums is the managing shareholder of Pittman Dutton Kirby & Hellums. He can be reached at or toll free at 866-515-8880

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