Is it legal for bill collectors to use assumed names?
February 24, 2007 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal for telemarketers/bill collectors to use assumed names when calling? I'm being hounded by an obviously non-native speaker named "Crystal Chandler" from "New York" (her colleague mentions a place several time zones away) regarding my credit card. They call me at least 3 times a day now using different numbers. I'm tempted to respond using an accent from that "Simpsons" character.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Actually, by federal law, if you tell them not to call you at all and to communiate with you in writing instead, and they keep calling you, you can sue them.
posted by SpecialK at 2:13 PM on February 24, 2007

Have you joined the Do Not Call list?

If they're bill collectors with a legitimate complaint, then that will not work.

However, many overseas companies that use outsourced labor will often encourage their employees to take on American sounding nicknames. This might be what's going on in this case.

There was a documentary on HBO (?) once that showed people in India working on accent removal and calling people using names like Joe and Bob and Claire, etc.

The location might be iffy though. They should be under some sort of obligation to divulge that.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2007

I used to do debt collection.

For the record, SpecialK, that is entirely dependent on the nature of the collection. For instance, in the case of student loan debt collection, they can call you forever no matter what. However, this is credit card debt, so it's accurate.

Also, it's entirely legal for a phone representative to use an assumed name (not sure about using a fake location), but they have to tell the truth about which company they represent and the nature of the account & debt they are collecting on (once they've verified your identity).

More than likely, you are being called by more than one department at the debt collection agency; another likely scenario is that one agency has contracted out some additional collection duties to another, thus the repeated calls. So, you have to find out who all is actually trying to contact you. Once you know that, submit your requests not to be contacted by phone in writing, and restate the request each time you are contacted by phone, referencing your letter to the company. Keep copies of your letters, and maybe even keep a log of the phone calls, in case you need to take further action later on.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:28 PM on February 24, 2007

You say a non-native speaker is calling you from New York?! That's unpossible!

SpecialK has it - collectors have to back down with the phone calls if you tell them, but be aware that this could just piss them off to the point where they start court proceedings against you.

If When they call again tell them that you are only willing to communicate with them through writing.

Be aware that communicating verbally with debtors can greatly imperial your legal rights. This is important if you're contesting the debt or worried about your credit history. Think "verbal agreement"...

Lastly, they will have a harder time hounding on the phone if you ditch your land line and go mobile.
posted by wfrgms at 2:33 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never heard of any law against giving an incorrect name over the telephone (but IANAL and my knowledge in this area is limited).

Is it possible that they're calling from India or elsewhere? I recall hearing a story on NPR about call center employees in India assuming "American" sounding names in order to make it easier to communicate with English speaking callers or clients (the basic premise being that the client would be more comfortable speaking to someone named "Tony", even if "Tony" has an obviously non-New York accent, thus allowing the call to go relatively smoothly).

I'd just ask to be put on their Do Not Call list, or if it's an attempt to collect a debt, advise them that you'll only communicate with them in writing.
posted by mewithoutyou at 4:43 PM on February 24, 2007

Wait a second, it sounds like you're not concerned about the fact that they're calling you at all, but rather that they're calling you from India and using fake American names? And you're not sure if that's legal? And you want to respond with an Apu voice?

Globalization is a fact of life. Major companies run call centers in India. They would be stupid not to do so; in fact they have little choice in the matter, since they are (typically) publicly traded companies, and their shareholders want higher profits, and thus they have a responsibility to their shareholders to go where the labor is cheapest.

If you have a problem with this, may I humbly suggest that you not take it out on the operator by mocking her with a fake Indian accent. Please think of your fellow human beings. Your quarrel is with the top of the ladder, not the bottom.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:49 PM on February 24, 2007 [8 favorites]

Of course it's legal for them to give you a name other than their birth name. Why wouldn't it be? Lots of people pick names that are easier to understand/say for professional purposes, not just call-center employees.

her colleague mentions a place several time zones away

Is this supposed to be a wink-wink reference to India, or does the colleague say that she's calling from, say, Bloomington, Indiana? If the latter, it is entirely possible that you are getting collection calls regarding the same account from individuals who do not work in the same city. If the former, uh, WTF?
posted by desuetude at 6:28 PM on February 24, 2007

Here is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
posted by lee at 7:23 PM on February 24, 2007

I used to work in collections, and some of my coworkers would use their maiden names at work, out of concern that irate debtors might try to look them up in the phone book.
posted by Lucinda at 8:11 PM on February 24, 2007

I've heard of call centers (here in the US!) where the workers are told to create a fake name to use on the phone. These aren't for phone sex or anything like that but for mainstream companies (order takers, CSRs, etc). Not sure what the reasoning behind it is.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:13 PM on February 24, 2007

How would you feel if you called someone in India on business, but it was an unpleasant transaction for them, and they talked back to you in a Texas twang to imply that you were stupid? Don't do the Apu thing. It's rude and a little racist. If the calls aren't legit, do hang up, though.
posted by Dasein at 9:44 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by longsleeves at 10:10 PM on February 24, 2007

I Mean, yes in anwer to the original query.
posted by longsleeves at 10:11 PM on February 24, 2007

The other thing to keep in mind is that using assumed names is incredibly common in all call center work. "Crystal Chandler" could sound like your Mom from Wichita or your cousin from Des Moines, and the likelihood that her name was actually "Crystal Chandler" wouldn't be a whole lot higher than it is now.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:01 AM on February 25, 2007

Thanks, PercussivePaul, you said that nicely -- much better than I would have done in haste.

If asking to not call doesn't work, call your credit card company and tell them you're having a problem communicating the fact that you do not want to be called. Ask if there's anything they can do to prevent you from receiving excessive calls.

And try to curb the bigotry, please. They're just doing their job. Many call centers in India work to teach their employees to speak with an American accent so that customers are more responsive. This sometimes includes adopting an American name.

Put yourself in their position -- if your job was to call Indian households (and you got paid 5x what do you do now doing it), wouldn't you find it frustrating that A) your native language is not the same as the people you're trying to call and B) some person on the other line is mocking your accent?

Not cool, and very childish.

posted by nitsuj at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2007

"Lastly, they will have a harder time hounding on the phone if you ditch your land line and go mobile."

This won't help one bit, as I found out several years ago. Collectors will still call your cell phone and they don't care if it's costing you. I mentioned it to one and said I'd sue under the FCRA, and the response was "Good luck proving it."

Creditors are the lowest form of life on the planet.

Do not deal with them on the phone. Do it all in writing, and send everything via certified mail. Keep logs of everything.
posted by drstein at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2007

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