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Debt collector: FTC smacks down on abusive practices

The Federal Trade Commission protects consumers against harassment by debt collection companies, here in Ohio and across the country. The agency recently took action against four companies that engaged in deceptive methods to collect debts that were, in some cases, nonexistent. A typical tactic of a debt collector involves intimidation, which can come in many forms.

The FTC reports that the debt collectors of one business -- operating under several different names -- collected $4 million by making consumers believe they were law enforcement officials, even though they could not provide proof that any debts were owed. Workers with another company reportedly obtained information about consumers who had only made inquiries about payday loans. They sought reimbursement of nonexistent loans and even told family members, co-workers and employers of their victims about the supposed debts. Another company copied the stationery of a municipal court and used letters and postcards to threaten people with arrest or jail time, impoundment of their vehicles and the inability to renew driver's licenses if fines were not paid.

Debt collection agencies sometimes try to intimidate a person into paying the debt of a family member, even if that person did not co-sign for the debt. Federal laws prohibit collectors from discussing a consumer's debt with other people. They must be able to prove that the debt is owed, and they may not pretend to be law enforcement officials or threaten consumers with arrest or wage garnishment. Use of profane language and/or other intimidating tactics to collect debts are also in violation of federal laws.

Ohio consumers have the right to dispute any debt claimed by a debt collector, and if any of their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are violated, they have the right to take legal action. An attorney who is experienced in pursuing claims against debt collectors who engage in abusive debt collection practices can examine the circumstances and suggest the most appropriate way forward. While debts must never be ignored, consumers do not allow have to allow debt collectors to intimidate them. In some circumstances, bankruptcy protection may be a helpful remedy to overcome financial struggles and achieve financial stability once again.

Source: journalnow.com, "Know your rights with debt collectors", Michelle Singletary, Jan. 14, 2016

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