Sometimes bad things DO come in threes
Shortly after receiving the letter from the law firm, another collection agency’s name began turning up on our Caller I.D. For a long time, they just called, and left no message, but one fine spring day, they called and left a recorded message on our answering machine.
If you’ve ever gotten a collection call, you will never forget the eerie sound of: “This call is for (insert your name). If you are not (insert your name), please hang up.” There are several variations of it, but there was no mistaking that somebody had gotten some collection software, and that someone with a spooky voice was calling my name.
I was still working my way through some effects of a different form of trauma, my mother’s death, and from becoming an empty nester when these events arrived on my doorstep. My blood pressure skyrocketed, and I started to shake every time the phone rang. I had made a request for a hearing about the first collection agency’s claim, and totally tanked in the courtroom after the dressing down from the judge on behalf of law and justice and getting a job and paying my bills. (Actually, at the time, I was waiting for my paycheck to clear at the bank so I could send them the money that I really owed to them, which they had not yet figured out).
What to do
In addition to crying out to God for help, I scoured the internet to see if there was any hope of help anywhere. I found Bud Hibbs’ Top Ten worst collection agencies in America. I researched the particular agencies who had nailed me. Stephen King has nothing on them when it comes to horror and suspense. It was an education. And, while you may read a lot of horror stories, you will seldom find cases that the consumers have won because, apparently, the collection agencies make it a part of their settlement agreement that you don’t give away their trade secrets. That’s why you won’t find any of the details in my posts.
Another thing I discovered were two laws that I had never heard of before. One of them was the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the other was the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These were passed in 1977, I believe, but very few consumers are aware that they exist, and that collection agencies violate them every day. There is a $1000 fine for each violation.
I also acquainted myself with Consumer Attorneys who work FOR people who are victims of violations of the two acts cited above. Some of them even work on contingency – no money up front, and the bad guy pays the attorney fees. I sent information to about four or five. Three actually called me, and encouraged me, but had full dockets at the time. Finally, one group came to my rescue. But that was only the beginning.
Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and purposed to answer the phone no matter what. When I did, I was told that I had an overdue bill, and they wanted to help me make arrangements to pay it (standard fare, btw). I disputed the claim that I owed them money. They demurred. I asked for written verification, and requested that they only communicate through the US Postal Service. They said they would send a debt validation letter, and agreed to communicate only by mail.
The letter came (very incomplete for a “validation”) and it turned out that the four numbers of the redacted SS# was not mine. I communicated this by return mail, and told them to cease and desist all collection activity regarding that debt. They stopped.
One evening my husband and I returned from a walk with the dogs, and the answering machine was blinking and beeping. It was yet a third collection agency, West Asset Management. This one also has a bad rep, but isn’t on Bud’s list. I had never heard of them before. I tried to talk to them for a couple of weeks, but they never left a message. I even picked up a couple of times, but they never responded. My research discovered that they had just had a 2.something million fine slapped on them for violations of the Fair Debt law.
Eventually, they found their own software with the Spooky Message. The first day it showed up, I could not well decipher what name they put into the Spooky Message, but it didn’t sound like mine. It wasn’t. They were looking for a Linda Jean Price – no one that I know. They never did talk to me, but I sent them a letter anyway telling them they were barking up the wrong phone number. And they went away.
All’s Well That Ends Well
I’m no richer than I was before, but I’m no poorer, either. And there’s much peace in being content with what I have. If any of you, or anyone you know is facing collection bullies, don’t let them beat you down. You have rights, too. The last installment will be some practical tips.