Collection Agencies and Do Not Call
June 6, 2004 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I have a collections agency calling my phone number in an attempt to get in touch with my next-door neighbor. I've asked them twice to stop calling me; they keep apologizing but don't seem concerned. I was just tipped off that this is a new game collections agents are playing: call nearby and have the neighbors do a little vigilante justice to get to the target. My question: do all the calls I've received fall under Do Not Call Registry protection?

Other facts: I'm fully Do Not Call registered and don't get much in the way of unsolicited phone calls. This company has called me about a dozen times, five since my initial request to stop bothering me. When I called today, the reps would not give me a corporate address or phone number, which itself is a Do Not Call violation. They pointedly told me, though, that their call is outside the Do Not Call legislation's jurisdiction, because they're not trying to sell me anything.

I still cry foul. Whose side is the law on? (I'm in New York state, curious about local and federal regulation.)
posted by werty to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
I'd call the BBB and the State Attorney General's office. And maybe the FTC as well, to see if it qualifies. The Do Not Call legislation (or even website) might list what does or does not qualify. Maybe findlaw, too?
posted by gramcracker at 8:49 PM on June 6, 2004

Werty, I think Eliot Ness, er, Spitzer would love to hear about this! Where I work (nameless utility call center) Collection Agencies do the following: they'll call and say "Hi, this is Candi Smith calling about my account. Here's my SSN - what is my current mailing address? What previous service addresses do you have for me? What Driver's License number do you have for me? Who is listed on the account with me? What work number do you have listed for me? What home number?
The morons always call from the same area codes, they always have tons of background noise, and they always sound about 20 years younger than the people they are calling about. If you can, always always always put a Password on your account. Uh, sorry for the tangent.
I'm a huge Spitzer fan. Eliot needs some new industries to tackle.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 9:13 PM on June 6, 2004

werty: you're probably hosed on the Do Not Call Registry, but I have an alternative -- cite harrassment on their ass, and register a complaint with the phone company for "telephone harrassment" (the exact legal phrase may vary by state, but if you dig deep enough in the phone company website, you'll find it).

Next, if you have a lawyer friend, issue a Cease and Desist letter. The fact that they won't give you their address coincidentally gives YOU ammunition regarding the claim of harrassment, and you can probably get the phone company to surrender the physical address of the collection agency, which you can then use to issue the C&D letter.

If they subsequently fail to honor the C&D, you can then try to take them into small claims court. You will likely get a summary judgment in your favor, and they will be barred from ever calling you again. You'd probably be able to recoup the minimal court fees as well, possibly including a little extra $ on the side.

...of course, if they aren't blocking their caller ID, you can always "answer" their calls with an air horn. That's what I'd do, because I Am Not A Lawyer...
posted by aramaic at 9:40 PM on June 6, 2004

TomSophieIvy: can you be just a little more specific without naming names? What is a "utility call center"? Does that fall under the traditional definition of "utilities", as in gas, electric, water, or phone company?

I've already put passwords on my accounts at my credit card companies and at the big three credit bureaus, but you have me concerned that I need to do the same with other vendors.

Yeah, I'm a little paranoid; I'm a victim of credit card fraud, so kindly humor me.
posted by Alylex at 9:48 PM on June 6, 2004

IANAL, but I was once a collections officer... if they're calling you and in any way allowing themselves to be identified as a collection agency that is seeking so-and-so, then there is a very good chance that they're in violation of federal law (1974 credit reporting act?), as they are divulging to a third party that a debt is owed by so-and-so... which is a big no-no — even the knuckle draggers at my agency wouldn't pull that trick.

Of course laws change, so I may be wrong.
posted by silusGROK at 10:44 PM on June 6, 2004

When my wife and I moved to Queens, Verizon ended up assigning us a phone number that had belonged to what were obviously a family of deadbeats. At least five calls a day, normally lodged on the answering machine, telling us to *please* call so-and-so immediately, and that our child had neglected to go to school today, and so on.

We also got calls from their friends, from people asking for them in Spanish, which is a bit of a problem as I don't speak it.

We ended up calling Verizon and complaining to them that they had given us a bum (no pun intended) phone number. They, surprisingly, concurred and changed our number for free. So keep the phone company in mind as an option.

In any case, I highly doubt the DoNotCall registry applies here. Under the FAQ section on what it covers, they clearly state "Only telemarketing calls are covered - that is, calls that solicit sales of goods or services." - and it doesn't sound like they're trying to sell you anything.
posted by Remy at 5:21 AM on June 7, 2004

Do to the Orwellian nature of my workplace, I'd rather not specifically name my employer but I am in the Electric Utility industry. Passwords with the Big 3 are great and highly advised. However, depending on your state, access to your account can be granted with little more than just your name and address or your name and phone number.
Most utilities, for example, only report to collection agencies when someone closes out an account and leaves it unpaid. In many states minimal information is needed to open an account, so when an account is finally assigned to an agency there might be minimal information (for example, just the date of birth) on the account. That does not leave the agency much to work with, so they try to get more information on you by any means possible. Or if they know you lived in an area that would have only been served by 1 utility, they will call that utility (even if they have received an assignment from someone in a different business) to 'data mine' the account for as much information as they can.
Agencies need to identify themselves on the phone, and have certain time frames that cannot be exceeded. Werty, can you record this call or at least bluff it? Or maybe say, sure, I know where to find them and take a message? I'd call the AG with that phone number right away.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 5:55 AM on June 7, 2004

First, file a complaint with the FTC under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601, et. seq. Section 806 of the FDCPA prohibits "any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt." The "any person" and "in connection with" parts are interpreted pretty broadly, and you don't have to be the "consumer," i.e., the individual holding the debt, to be protect by section 806. Specifially included as a violation of that section is "[c]ausing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number."

Also, many states have passed mini-FDCPA's, prohibiting similar conduct under state law. Find out how to file a complaint with the appropriate agency in your state. In New York, the Department of Consumer Affairs is responsible for enforcing the state Consumer Protection Law, which includes a section on debt collection.

Next, inform the debt collection company that you have filed complaints with the FTC and the applicable state agency. Let them know that you are aware of your rights, including the possibility of both civil liability and administrative enforcement under the FDCPA.

Here is more information on debt collection from the FTC. This is not an exhaustive list of possible remedies. You should also contact the BBB and related consumer protection organizations, and if necessary, consult a lawyer to have the conduct ended.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2004

Wow, two-for-one privacy violation. Once again the collections industry finds a new low.

Monju Bosatsu, great advice, but how can he inform the collection agency since they won't divulge their contact info?
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:13 AM on June 7, 2004

TomSophieIvy, thank you. Good information, much appreciated.
posted by Alylex at 9:46 AM on June 7, 2004

nakedcodemonkey: Werty mentioned that he called them to request the corporate address and phone number. He must have some sort of contact information. If the reps are trained to respond to a Do Not Call Registry complaint, they may also be trained to recognize and pass up the chain a complaint under the FDCPA. Also, even having the contact information of the call center may be enough to set the FTC or New York's DCA on the company's trail.

Werty, do you have the name of the collections agency?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:59 AM on June 7, 2004

The collections agency (want a link? here's the violator) has a message when you call that gives the company name, so that part was easy. One customer service rep told me he was in Toronto, one of many offices the company has nationwide, and the Web site's information corroborates my sleuthing. I wanted to get an address and phone number live, but after they refused, I let Google do the work they wouldn't do.

I filed the FTC complaint and left a message with customer service. If they call me again I'll pursue something in small claims court.
posted by werty at 12:01 PM on June 8, 2004

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