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Can debt collectors not disclose their identity when calling to harass relatives of a debtor?
July 17, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Do debt collection agencies have to identify themselves as such when calling relatives of the debtor?

I got a call today from a debt collection agency who was looking for a close relative who is on the same cell phone plan with me. Let's say my relative's name is Don Smith. The debt collector started by asking if I was Don Smith, and I told them that I am not. They asked if I know Don Smith. I asked them who they're with, and they said NCO, which sounded like a debt collection agency to me. I said, "if you are a debt collector, don't you need to inform me as such before asking for such information?" They said, "Are you a lawyer? You need to get current on your laws." I told them that it's none of their business if I know that person. They asked again and I said no, which is not true. They then proceeded to be a huge jerk to me when I told them not to call me anymore.
I looked it up, and according to the internet, a debt collector can call just once to ask the whereabouts of a relative. Am I legally required to tell them the truth? They should know my relative's whereabouts as they have had the same phone number and address for over 20 years and aren't exactly in hiding.

I plan on complaining to the company no matter what since the debt collector was exceedingly rude, but I'd like to know whether they have to disclose their identity before asking whether I know the debtor so I can add that to my complaint.
posted by ishotjr to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
To add: I am really asking if they have to do the "this call is for the purposes of collecting a debt..." spiel that debt collectors usually do, but this guy didn't.
posted by ishotjr at 12:25 PM on July 17, 2009


Sorry, also I should add that I'm in Texas and so is the debtor.
posted by ishotjr at 12:26 PM on July 17, 2009


Not only do they not have to identify themselves, they are trained to do things like this when "skip tracing" (i.e. trying to find someone they've not been able to contact regarding the debt).
posted by arniec at 12:36 PM on July 17, 2009


(Oh, and I should add, they are trained to be rude, it's their job...if you complain they will likely commend the employee rather than punish...)
posted by arniec at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2009


According to the people who used to call my number looking for the former holder of said number, they're not allowed to discuss the nature of the call due to privacy concerns. Someone else will know this part better, but I believe that if they confirm that they are talking to the debtor, then they have to disclose.

In my case, I just explained patiently that I didn't know the person in question and had only recently acquired the number from the cable company, and in nearly every instance they apologized and never called back. I think you're going to have trouble doing that because they almost certainly know that the cell number has an association with your relative. I'd just say "This isn't Don Smith's number and you have a personal matter with Don Smith. I won't contact Don Smith on your behalf. Please do not call again. Thanks. Bye."
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:41 PM on July 17, 2009


These guys don't have to be nice, so they're not. I would research both the websites of the FTC and Texas' Attorney General for more specifics.
posted by heather-b at 12:41 PM on July 17, 2009


I believe under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they're required to identify themselves to the consumer (here, Don Smith) and are not allowed to discuss the nature of the debt with 3rd parties. It only applies to third parties; if Sears is trying to collect its own debt from Don, it doesn't apply, but that doesn't sound like the case here.

If Don doesn't want to hear from them again, except through litigation, he can send them written notice and they have to go away.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:49 PM on July 17, 2009


One thing to remember is that if reasonable attempts to confirm the debtor's current address are unsuccessful, the collection agency may be allowed to add skip-tracing costs to the debt they are trying to recover.

When I worked as a credit analyst, I was not legally allowed to disclose any information at all about why I was calling to anyone other than our customer or legally authorised third parties (it used to piss off parents and spouses no end). Nor were the collection agencies we used (because their names are so well known, they didn't even disclose the company name to third parties - if they left a message it would only include a phone number, reference number, and contact name). It's really going to depend a great deal on the privacy laws in your particular jurisdiction.
posted by Lolie at 12:53 PM on July 17, 2009


"Am I legally required to tell them the truth?"

No. They aren't cops and you haven't sworn an oath. One could easily make the case, because Don is so easy to find, that they are harassing you in order to get Don to pay up. I'd be hard pressed not to spin a yarn that wasted dozens of hours of their time chasing down false information. Preferably via a long drawn out phone conversation that had me called away repeatedly to answer the door.
posted by Mitheral at 2:06 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please, ishotjr, don't tell the debt collectors anything. You don't "owe" them the truth; look what they're doing, for crying out loud, shaking people down. (For the Righteous out there, I don't care that the guy they're looking for may or may not owe some money. Who cares!)
When it comes to debt collectors, whether on the phone or in person, let your motto be:
"Lie like a rug."
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:29 PM on July 17, 2009


Basically, they're required by law to NOT disclose their identity to relatives. This is in the debtor's favor. Otherwise collectors could simply threaten to inform relatives and business relations about it. Breaking this law results in sizeable remedies for the debtor, so it's drilled into every collector's head what the law is. Hence the thing about getting "current on the law".They are required to inform the debtor themselves who they are, though.

Of course, this doesn't apply to collections done by the creditor. Interesting note: several agencies are glad to operate as a "first party" collector. All the benefits of first party collections, with the cost savings of outsourcing to a third party!

Another fun law: debt collectors can't fax debtors forms without written permission first. The fastest way to give written permission is to fax a signed statement. Yes, you must send a fax to recieve one. I guess it beats the alternative of fax spamming.
posted by pwnguin at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2009


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