Have You Fallen Victim to Debt Collectors?

They may soon be subject to federal supervision — and shares practices that are off-limits for the agencies.

For the first time ever, it is likely that debt collectors and credit bureaus may be subject to federal supervision.


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule on Thursday that would allow the organization to oversee the nation’s largest debt collectors and consumer reporting agencies, such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, who, until now, have largely evaded federal scrutiny.


“Our proposed rule would mean that those debt collectors and credit reporting agencies that qualify as larger participants are subject to the same supervision process that we apply to the banks,” Richard Cordray, the new director of the bureau, said in a statement.


The CFPB estimated that under the proposed rule, they would oversee about 175 firms that account for about 63 percent of the debt collected from consumers each year.


The news comes in light of the fact that for years, collection agencies have been accused of targeting African-Americans


In 2010, Allen Jones, a Black man from Texas, was awarded a $1.5 million settlement after a debt collector allegedly left him racially charged messages, including one in which the collector told Jones to "go pick some [expletive] cotton fields."


Additionally, debt buyers have often failed to notify African-Americans that they are being sued. Joanna D., a single mother of Buffalo, New York, for example, was sued by debt buyers three times. In one lawsuit, though she is not married, the buyer claimed to have served Joanna’s husband. In another, the buyer claimed to have served her in person, describing her as white, though she is African-American. In another, the buyer claimed to serve her at a location she has never lived. In response, the buyers obtained automatic “default” judgments against her in all three lawsuits, according to the non-profit New Yorkers for Responsible Lending.


The new CFPB plan will seek to eliminate cases, like these, of wrongdoing. The power to oversee non-banks was the main component of the CFPB’s new design and they have already put some of their power to use as hearings on payday lending and plans to propose new rules for mortgage servicers have already been convened.


The proposal to oversee debt collectors and reporting agencies now enters a 60-day comment period. The bureau expects to finalize the rule by July, the two-year anniversary of the agency’s creation.


According to the FTC, the following are practices that are off-limits for debt collectors:


Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:


−use threats of violence or harm;

−publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);

−use obscene or profane language; or

−repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.


False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:


−falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;

−falsely claim that you have committed a crime;

−falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;

−misrepresent the amount you owe;

−indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or

−indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.


Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:


−you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;

−they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or

−legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.


Debt collectors may not:


−give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;

−send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or

−use a false company name.


Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:


−try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt or your state law allows the charge;

−deposit a post-dated check early;

−take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or

−contact you by postcard.



This list is non-exhaustive, and if you believe you are being or have been harassed by a debt collector, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission here.


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(Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

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