Debthelper: Talking To Bill Collectors
“Cease and Desist” Orders, Other Tactics Can Help You Deal with Bill Collectors
I have a confession: My career in the credit industry began as a bill collector. I was so embarrassed to tell anyone what I did for a living, and secretly loathed myself for aligning with the forces of evil. I made good money and was very successful without having to belittle the people I was calling. I was astonished how low some of my co-workers would sink just to get their commission. Some bill collectors are downright vicious and sometimes go too far.
Recently, I watched a documentary, called Maxed Out, about credit card debt and American society. Some parts of the movie were extremely heartbreaking. There was a woman who had been missing after taking a call from a bill collector, and a few months later her abandoned car was found in a lake. She had committed suicide after speaking with a collector. The movie made me cry. It was frightening to imagine that some of my co-workers could have done that kind of damage to someone.
I was taught as a bill collector that the people you are calling are not customers; they are debtors. Debtors are dehumanized, and some collectors thought they were “deadbeats who didn’t deserve respect.”
The truth is anyone can fall on hard times, and when things in life are bad, you need to take care of yourself first. You need to have food in your belly and a roof over your head. A reduced income, unemployment, divorce, medical problems and many other hardships can cause anyone to fall behind. I found myself often being a credit counselor at heart, not a bill collector. I sincerely wanted all the people I spoke with to get back on their feet.
That made me different from many of the other collectors I worked with. I decided I couldn’t be a bill collector forever. It was casting a shadow of gloom over my life. The good thing is that I learned all the nasty tricks bill collectors use to intimidate people; also, I am familiar with some of the laws involving debt collection.
Collection agencies are not allowed to contact you whenever they choose. The hours that collectors are allowed to call are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., your local time. If they call outside those hours, you should report them to the Federal Trade Commission. Collectors are not allowed to threaten you with bodily harm or verbally abuse you. That means they are not allowed to swear at you or belittle you. Their job is to collect a debt, not to abuse you.
Bill collectors can be verbally abusive and can wreak havoc on your everyday life. Imagine if you were at work, answering the phone just like normal, and the other voice on the line happened to be a bill collector. First, you have already incriminated yourself by not disguising your identity. Your best bet at that point is to either talk to the collector or just hang up. In Florida, bill collectors are not allowed to verify your employment, and if you request in writing that you cannot be contacted at work, the collector is required by law to honor that request. Even better, is your right to “Cease and Desist” all communications; that makes it so the creditor cannot contact you by phone at all. This will allow you to wait until you have the money available to take care of your obligations.
Many people who are contacted by collection agencies feel powerless because even if a collector is breaking the law, they don’t know their rights. My advice is to always exercise your right to “Cease and Desist” all communications. The only time you should be talking to a bill collector is to get their fax number or address so you can send them a written “Cease and Desist” request. This will make the debt virtually uncollectible until you are back on your feet and ready to pay.