PIERRE, SD – In these tough economic times, some unscrupulous bill collectors are going after people who owe money and even those who don’t.
Complaints against bill collectors have jumped 15 percent in the past year, sparking more calls to consumer protection in the South Dakota Attorney General’s office.
They call demanding money and demanding it now.
“And they’re using the scare tactics that you need to get paid right now or we’re sending the sheriff to get the money or get you,” Jody Swanson, an Investigator with Consumer Protection, said.
Many times it doesn’t matter whether you really owe the money. Somehow, the company has gotten your name and information and hopes to collect anyway. It’s known as zombie debt collecting.
“You have elderly people getting the bills. I have one that came from New York. She’s never been to New York and they’re harassing her, saying, ‘You owe this bill; we’re going to ruin your credit, take your Medicare.’ All of those types of scare tactics,” Swanson said.
But even if the debt is yours, the sheriff wouldn’t be on his way to your house and the collector is required by law to give you proof of the debt.
“A legitimate collector has to give you documentation to show you are actually the one owing the bill. They have five days to do that, a legitimate business,” Swanson said.
But when the tables turn and an investigator from the Attorney General’s office contacts the collector on behalf of the consumer, often times that’s all it takes for the questionable collector to back down.
“‘Oh, that’s a mistake. That’s a mistake.’ When they know it’s us, the Attorney General’s office calling, and then it’s a mistake on their part, we’ll get that taken care of right away,” Swanson said.
The Federal Trade Commission now says the system for resolving consumer debt collection disputes is broken and is calling for reform.
Part of the problem is penalties against this kind of illegal collection practice remain low so there is little incentive for companies to stop using them.
If you’ve been the target of unfair debt collection call Consumer Protection at 1-800-300-1986 or visit the South Dakota Attorney General’s website.
By Angela Kennecke
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