“Debt Collectors!” (Part III)

“Debt Collectors!” (Part III)

This is Part III (and final part) of Why I Practice Consumer Law.

As discussed in Part I and Part II, my wife and I were dealing with massive medical debts from being denied insurance benefits.  During the time consuming appeal process, we maintained contact with the health providers.  The health providers seemed like they were going to work with us but instantaneously reported us to debt collections.

The debt collector employees were ferocious.  They called us multiple times per day and sent many letters.  Some letters came on attorney letterhead rather than just XYZ Debt Collectors.  Apparently, seeing the almighty Oz rather than the little pipsqueak behind the scenes makes people immediately pay the debt collector.  Anyway, my wife informed the debt collector(s) of our situation, that we were working with our insurance company and the hospital.  They kept calling.  To them, we were the irresponsible, deadbeat, lazy, dishonest people with the audacity to get into this debt situation.

My wife and I were angry and embarrassed.  The arrows began raining down with more frequency.  We received debt notices indicating we owed one amount and then another indicating we owed a different amount.  The phone calls kept increasing until my wife received a message at work regarding our debt.  They probably would have called my employer if it didn’t end with “Law Offices!”  We thought it was a matter of time before our credit ratings were wiped out.  I’m not quite sure what the debt collectors expected us to do in order to immediately settle this massive debt.

That is when we found the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.  It was the shield that protected us from the aggressive debt collectors arrows while we disputed the underlying debt.  This Act gave us peace of mind during the time consuming dispute process.

Under this Act, debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact third parties including your employer and indicate you owe a debt.
  • Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
  • Contact you if you are represented by an attorney.
  • Use threatening, abusive, or oppressive tactics.
  • Place telephone calls without identifying themselves.
  • Cause the telephone to ring repeatedly.
  • Indicate they are affiliated with government or law enforcement.
  • Collect amounts not authorized by the original agreement.
  • Use any false or misleading representation in connection with debt collection.

Debt collectors must:

  • Send a 30-day validation notice within 5 days of the initial communication.
  • State the name of the creditor and the amount within the notice.
  • Inform you of the right to dispute the debt.
  • Inform you of the right to have the debt verified.
  • Follow your written instructions to cease communications.

We were not aware of these protections, at first.  Learning about these protections armed us with the tools to change the game.  In fact, we learned the debt collectors owed us money!

After fighting with the health insurance company for over a year, we settled the dispute.  In the end, the health insurance company compensated us and the debt collector(s) paid damages for violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.  Unfortunately, we were unable to settle either issue until threatening litigation but the Act gave us the legal right and the time we needed to fight the insurance company.

Our experience is not unique.  Some insurance companies, debt collectors, and other business can act like schoolhouse bullies.  These bullies seemingly create the rules, hold the trump cards, and stop at nothing to get your lunch money.  I practice consumer law because I realized the importance of understanding the rules of the game and developing a strategy to achieve a fair result.  That said, I guess another reason I love consumer law is that it feels really good to punch the proverbial bully square in the jaw when necessary.

Kay Lynn Lee