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Scam alert — sleazy debt collectors on the loose

By: 16 July 2010 4 Comments

Here’s one for the “how dare you” files.

About a decade ago, my wife and I ran out of money. We got behind on a few bills but did manage to muddle through and pay them off. One of those bills was for $260 to Southwestern Bell — yes, we did get the phone bill paid, albeit a bit late.

Flash forward to 2010 — I got a call this morning from a guy at some company (can’t remember the name) that said he was collecting that particular Southwestern Bell debt. I told him it had been paid and he needed to check his records.

The cat from the firm immediately said he would accept half the money owed — but that offer would only last for the duration of our phone call. I told him I needed proof of the debt. I got sent to a supervisor and then a super-supervisor — the result of which I was told they had no proof of the original debt and that I had a moral obligation to pay what I owed, even if my point that the statute of limitations had run was true.

The phone call ended with a threat of legal action and a terse “have a nice day.”

“Odd,” I thought as I phoned the Arkansas Attorney’s General office and asked if such dicey tactics were on the rise here in the Natural State. Deputy Attorney General Jim DePriest said his office has received a lot of complaints about shady debt collections lately.

Furthermore, such tactics are on the rise throughout the nation.

DePriest said what’s happening is that a good number of companies are buying up debts for literally pennies on the dollar in hopes of strong-arming people into paying them. If one company can’t collect a debt, there’s a chance it will bundled up with other debts that are deemed non-collectible and will be sold off to another firm.

DePriest said, quite often, the information that goes along with each collection account gets worse with each transfer. So much worse, in fact, that people are getting harassed for debts they’ve already paid and, in some cases, debts they never incurred at all.

Another interesting tidbit that DePriest passed on is that the statute of limitations to collect on contract obligations — such as phone bills — in Arkansas is five years. There is a concern, then, that collectors who know that it’s impossible to bring a suit and collect a debt outside the statute of limitations will stoop to all manner of threats and bullying on order to collect what they claim is owed them.

The problem of meddlesome debt collectors has become such a nuisance in Arkansas that the Attorney General’s office issued a consumer alert in May reminding Arkansans of the regulations governing collectors (click the aforementioned link to have a look at the alert — there’s a lot of great information there).

In short, if you get a call from a debt collector, you have every right in the world to ask them to prove that you owe the debt. Researching the statute of limitations laws in your state might be a good idea, too.

Here’s another great resource — AnnualCreditReport.com. That government-run site allows consumers to pull their credit reports once a year and review them for any inaccuracies. The debt collection agency that annoyed me said the Southwestern Bell bill was adversely impacting my credit. That was a lie. That bill didn’t show up on my report at all (probably because the debt was paid years ago).

A bad economy seems to bring out the worst in everyone. Still, is there anything sleazier than a debt collection agency that uses threats and strong-arm tactics to bully people into paying bills they don’t owe?

Fortunately, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has an outstanding Consumer Protection Division in his office. Any Arkansans who feels like he or she is being bullied by a shady collection agency can reach the Consumer Protection Division by phone at (501)682-2341 or 800-482-8982 or by email at consumer@arkansasag.gov.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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