There was an interesting news story on CNN last week. Actually, it wasn’t quite news, more of a feature. It was called Confessions of Former Debt Collectors, and at least half of them stated that they knew that they were breaking the law with some of their collection practices. Yet they knew that they had to break those laws to keep up with the quotas set by the company’s they worked for to not only keep their jobs, but to earn monthly bonuses.

I had two takes on the story. One was “duh”, because I know how collection agencies work. I used to hire collection agencies for some of the hospitals I worked for in the past, and all of them would say that they would follow all the rules and never put the hospital in a bad light. Then we would have someone calling the CEO complaining about something someone said to them on the phone, and of course the CEO would call me and I’d have to figure out a way to deal with it.

Over the years, here and there I’ve had to deal with a collection call as well. Lucky for me, I know the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and would always make sure they knew I knew the rules up front so that they wouldn’t dare try any of that stuff on me. Of course, it also helps to ask them to hold, wait for about a minute, then tell them that you’re recording the conversation you’re having with them, whether you are or not. One, it’s a great tactic, and two, in some states if you were recording someone you have to tell them that (who remembers Linda Tripp?).

The other side of some of what these people had to say are the threats that they ended up getting from people who said they’d track them down and kill them. While I don’t ever condone that type of thing, it seems like these people wanted to violate what I call the rule of consequence; don’t do it if you’re not ready to deal with the consequences of your action.

Here’s the thing. Collection agencies are needed to help companies recover money from debtors who have refused to pay. However, most companies will write off that debt and collect insurance on it, so don’t feel totally sorry for them. Not only that, but they then sell the debt to someone else, which means they’re not getting any more money from it. Now, you can be sued, and it’s always best to try to set up some kind of payment arrangement because it looks better on your credit report. But no one has the right to be intimidated, lied to, or threatened to collect money that the original owner has already written off the books.

If you’re ever threatened, call your state’s attorney general and complain. You might even end up getting money from the collection agencies, but better yet, you help change the culture of the industry and force them to follow the rules set by the federal government… just like everyone else.

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