I previously wrote about Jim Puzzanghera of the LA Times and his a great story on debt collection tactics. Jim's first paragraph tells the story of most people these days:
"Hard economic times have helped push millions of Americans deeply into debt, plunging many into a dark world filled with relentless collection agents, aggressive lawyers and companies that profit mightily if they can get people to pay up."
In his story, Jim focuses on two debt collectors based in southern California: Encore Capital Group Inc.of San Diego (owners of Midland Funding) and Brachfeld Law Group. Both have had numerous complaints filed against them. A quick search of the federal court system, PACER, turns up 31 lawsuits against Brachfeld Law Group in the last two years and 65 against Erica Brachfeld individually. (Erica Brachfeld and Brachfeld Law Group are now out of business.) Unfortunately, California does not have a unified computer system to search for lawsuits, but suffice it to say, these cases are not the only ones out there.
And this does not even include a list of all of the debt collectors. I know of cases involving CIR Law based in San Diego, NCO Financial, Frederick J. Hanna & Associates, Persolve, Patenaude and Felix, and more. A detailed study of the number of times these folks are sued would take weeks, but, sadly, to them its the cost of doing business, a la Ford and the Pinto. For them, it is the cost of doing business. They are willing to put up with the ocassional lawsuits against them for the money they make.
Sadly, most consumers do not aggressively defend themselves and fight back.If you do, you can have great results. I just had a case dismissed by Patenaude and Felix based on fighting them. (This is not a guarantee that you would get the same result or a guarantee of any result.)
What is a consumer to do? Know your rights. Read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") and the Rosenthal Act - sometimes called the Rosenthal FDCPA. Learn about the new Fair Debt Buyers Act in California. Talk to an attorney as soon as you get a letter from a debt collector. When they call you, immediately tell them that you will only deal with them in writing and send them a letter, via fax or mail, confirming this. Do not let them bully you.
Only when enough consumers push back, will the actions of the debt collectors change. And there are plenty of good lawyers out there willing to help!