Managing Debt

Debts You Don’t Owe Top Collector Complaints

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Americans are tired of being hounded for debts they don’t owe (or at least debts they don’t think they owe), according to a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Some of the other complaints involve debt collectors using abusive language and threatening arrest for unpaid bills. The aggressive communication tactics and threats sound bad enough for people who actually owe the money, but it’s pretty problematic that collectors are hounding the wrong people, on top of everything else.

The CFPB accepts consumer complaints in nine categories, including mortgages and student loans, but debt collection complaints quickly became the most common after the bureau started accepting them less than a year ago. The bureau has received more than 30,000 complaints since July 2013, and more than a third of them indicate that collectors are persistently pursuing debts the consumers do not believe are owed, either because the debts don’t belong to them or have already been paid.

Granted, there’s a lot of unpaid debt out there — about one in 10 Americans had an account in collections last year — but that doesn’t justify poor treatment of consumers.

“Consumers should never be hounded about debts they do not owe,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, according to a news release about the report. “We will not tolerate companies harassing consumers or threatening illegal actions in the debt collection market. We will continue to work hard to ensure that consumers are treated with dignity and fairness.”

Verbal Abuse

On the note of fairness: Consumers aren’t all that pleasant, either. People who have worked as collectors say it’s common to receive death threats, among other nasty comments, and that’s really not the best way to deal with debt collectors.

If you’re on the receiving end of an aggressive or verbally abusive debt collector, you can add your complaint to the thousands already being reviewed by the CFPB. The bureau has taken action against two debt collectors in the past year, and it took steps toward creating consumer protections around debt collection in November 2013. The CFPB also provides sample letters for situations that may come up when dealing with collectors.

Most of all, ignoring the calls isn’t a good idea, because avoidance is not a fruitful problem-solving technique (ever). Maintaining communication is often the best way to get to the bottom of confusion over debt.

If you have been contacted by a collector about a debt you don’t owe, the collection account may be hurting your credit. You should pull copies of your free credit reports to determine if the account is an error. Also, you may want to monitor your credit to see the effect the account it having on your credit scores. The free Credit Report Card will update two of your credit scores every month, and tell you how many negative accounts (like collections) are on your credit profile.

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