A Philosopher's Blog

Debt Collection Abuses

Posted in Business, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on September 23, 2009
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Debt collectors generally have a bad reputation, but it has gotten even worse in the past year. Because of the economic mess, more folks are unable to pay their debts and the folks who are owed money need it even more badly. This has, not surprisingly, caused a surge in the intensity of debt collection tactics.

While abusive tactics are illegal and there have been recent crack downs, the problem of abusive tactics remains. Recently I saw a segment on CNN about a pending case in which it is being claimed that debt collectors literally hounded a man to death. The individual in question was out of work due to a heart condition and the collectors made mention of this in their calls, thus showing that they were quite aware of it.

While it seems somewhat unlikely that the needed causal connection between the collectors’ actions and the death will be established, it does seem likely that the collectors will be in some legal trouble in regards to their tactics.

While I am not in debt, I can attest to how annoying and harassing debt collectors can be. For the past week I have been getting a call each day from a collection agency looking for someone who just happens to have my last name. While the automated calls are not particularly rude, they are certainly annoying. This has also happened before, so I assume that debt collectors often do not believe they have an obligation to determine who they are calling. Since I find the calls I get rather annoying, I can imagine just how unpleasant it can be for folks who actually owe money.

While I do believe that folks who owe money are obligated to pay it back, debt collection agencies are also obligated to act within the law (obviously) and they are also not exempt from morality. As such, they should stay within the boundaries of the law or be properly punished.

If you do owe money and are dealing with debt collectors, it is important that you know your rights and the laws that debt collectors must follow. Obviously, you should not simply assume that they are following the law, especially if they are acting in ways that you find threatening, insulting, or harassing. While they do have a legal right to collect the debt, they must also operate within the law. If you believe that a debt collector is acting in a way that violate your rights or the law, then contact your state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

While some folks think that the government is inefficient and good for nothing, the folks in the AG and FTC can actually help you.

Speaking of the government, while there are laws limiting the actions of debt collection agencies, it seems likely that the state and private sector should address this problem. After all, there seem to be many folks who are in debt and cannot pay. This harms them as well as the folks they owe money. While I do not think that the state should bail people out, this problem does need to be addressed. Naturally, I’d like to put in a request that debt collectors cannot just call people who happen to have the last name of someone they are looking for.

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