When the collector calls your family
One of the many questions and complaints about collection agencies is their calling third parties repeatidly. It is a valid complaint -- especially when you are the third party.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) regulates this practice in section 804. Rather than copy the act here, I have linked to it.
The general gist of this is that a collector (henceforth "we") cannot tell whomever answers the phone that there even is a debt. This always leads to the famous answering machine debate.
There is a conflict between court rulings and the FDCPA. We used to leaves messages that said something to the effect of, "Joe Snuffy, this is Pat Nolan I need you to call be back today regarding an important mater." With that message there was no risk of disclosing the collection to any third party that happened to listen to your messages. However, in the Foti v. NCO case, the court decided that answering machine messages were "communications" and required disclosure and the mini-miranda.
So now, some companies are leaving messages like: "Joe Snuffy, this is Pat Nolan with NCO Financial. The law requires I inform you that this is an attempt to collect a debt and this is a communication with a debt collector. Please return my call to 800-XXX-XXXX with ID code 23343233. Thank you."
So this poses a real problem for many ethical debt collectors. We want to protect your privacy. My agency does not leave messages any more. However, the converse is that auto-dialers may call a house 28 times over the course of one day without leaving a message. -- more on that in another column.
Paragraph 3: The annoyance calls to family. If we can't find you, we call every phone number in your credit report, family and next-door neighbors. The rule is that we can only call once unless that person asks us to call back or the collector reasonably believes that the earlier response was erroneous or incomplete. This gets abused by far too many agencies. Simply put the collector never believes the debtors' family or friends.
We can't disclose on our letters to the consumer that it is a letter from a debt collection company. That is why many collection agencies don't use return addresses or abbreviate their names like NRI and NCO. The upside is we respect your privacy; the down side is our letters look like typical junk mail and get thrown out most of the time.
And the big one. When I went through bankruptcy, my attorney warned me that collectors would get more annoying trying to beat the automatic stay, I had to explain to her that that was not legal. If you hire an attorney to represent you regarding a debt or for bankruptcy, a collector is not allowed to communicate with you. That means letters, calls and even Christmas cards. You have to be ready to provide your attorney's name address and phone number.