If you're one of the 30 million Americans being pursued by a collection agency, help is now here when it comes to those bill collectors who are aggressive, harassing and abusive. New this year, a watchdog agency is policing large collection firms.
Kevin Lynn says bill collectors sometimes call his house up to 20 times a day. And get this, the debt isn't even his.
"I always told them I don't owe the debt, they had the wrong person, that I don't know who the person is," Lynn explained.
But that person apparently lived in the house previously. Lynn filed three lawsuits to get the ringing to stop. Even more frustrating, his phone company charges him for each incoming call.
"Very upset that I have to pay to be harassed," Lynn said.
The Federal Trade Commission says it got more than 150,000 complaints about debt collectors last year, that's more than any other industry.
"Some of our number one sources of complaints for consumers are for harassment and abuse calling too often, using profanity, making violent or abusive threats," said Attorney Chris Koegel with the Federal Trade Commission.
To crack down, a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, is going to start policing some of the largest collection agencies in the country.
How bad can some company's tactics get? Attorneys representing consumers say bill collectors have left people threatening messages like:
"I'm going ahead with a warrant for your arrest."
"You will be behind bars for six months. And once you go behind the bars you may lose your job."
In an FTC lawsuit filed against one bill collector, a grieving mother said she was asked how she would feel if the funeral home dug up her son's body and, "dropped it outside my house because i hadn't paid my debt."
Every industry is going to have bad apples," said Patrick Morris, with the Debt Collection Trade Association.
The association says it wants those using abusive tactics weeded out so others can do the right job.
"Don't shoot the messenger. We're here doing our job. We're here respecting laws and regulations and we treat consumers with respect," said Morris.
The new watchdog agency, CFPB, will have new authority to make sure large collection firms are not harassing or deceiving consumers into paying debt and are using accurate data to pursue debts.
Lynn says that's good news because he's still getting collection calls and feels helpless to do anything about harassment.
"Americans definitely need a new watch dog to help them," said Lynn.
The CFPB's new authority started January 2, 2013. The FTC and CFPB are working together and will share information and complaints it gets from consumers.
- Read more about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- Read more about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its focus
- File a complaint with Florida's Attorney General
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
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