Debt Collectors Want To Be Paid… Respect?

Lesllie Rogers, debt collector. Picture of Innocence? Don't Think So! Photo Credit: Ben Garvin for the NY Times

Considering some of the horrific things I unfortunately experienced several years ago when dealing with the often abusive behavior of debt collectors, when a headline that popped up on my Twitter account posted by the NY Times titled “Debt Collectors Ask to Be Paid a Little Respect“, I literally laughed myself into a coughing fit. You see, I’ve had a wicked head cold/bronchitis for the last several days, so the sardonic laughter incited by that title wasn’t exactly ‘the best medicine’ at the moment, but I sure did find that headline & the article itself strangely amusing, to say the least! ‘Respect’ & ‘Debt Collector’ in the same sentence? Oh the hilarity of that headline!

Maybe it was the cold medicine I’d taken that night. Maybe it’s possible that enough time has passed since the outright verbal & mental abuse I personally endured from various debt collectors that I was even able to laugh at that headline. I may never know. What I do know is this. Had I seen that headline several years ago, I would’ve most likely been on the phone to the NY Times demanding the real victims’ side of the story be told. It’s no laughing matter to those who are abused by these people & I am going to tell the other side of the story.

By the way, I know the NY Times put such a sympathetic picture on this story by photographing a woman in a call center in Minnesota who’s as American as baseball & apple pie so that the general public who’s, thankfully, never had to face this problem is probably thinking to themselves, ‘well, at least this bad economy is creating jobs in America in one industry’. It’s terrific propaganda & I’d have to agree with those of you that were thinking that if I didn’t know for a fact that over 90% of the calls I received were from call centers in India routed through fake U.S. phone numbers set up for just that purpose. So, yet again, America’s failing economy is fueling India’s economy with their cheap labor.

I do encourage you to please read the entire article once you’ve finished here as I don’t intend at all to be one-sided. I will say this, though. Well played, poor abused innocent little debt collectors. Well played, indeed.

I’m not going to ask for a pity party here or deny that my husband & I had accumulated a bit too much credit card debt. We made financial mistakes. However, we also couldn’t have predicted that Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, when compounded with a few other painful health conditions, would finally force me to give up my job. I’m relatively young & refuse to even try filing for disability because somehow, in the back of my mind, I’m just not ready to give up on myself completely. I know it’s wrong to think this way, but it’s always in the back of my mind that I’d only be a further burden to the already-suffering economy if I were to collect disability. So, inevitably, we finally fell behind in our payments.

That’s when the harassment & lies began. First came the constant phone calls ranging anywhere from just before 8am eastern until sometimes as late as 10pm eastern. I counted 26 calls in one day from the same number/company–even though I’d answered the first call & told them I didn’t have the money. Then there were the ‘payment arrangements’, with the oh-so-innocent debt collector promising the debt would be fully cleared & it would all be over if we allowed a set number of installments to be taken in the form of weekly or bi-weekly auto-drafts from our bank account. We agreed to several of these so-called arrangements even though the amounts were significantly higher than even the minimum monthly payments would’ve been, simply to just pay it off & get these professional bullies off our backs. Of course, these auto-drafts ended up putting me in the new predicament of juggling late utility bills. It was a vicious cycle, but then we’d receive the notice that the last payment had been drafted & we were now in ‘good standing’. What we didn’t realize was that, even though we were promised by the agent on the phone that these astronomical installment payments we were agreeing to were going to satisfy the debt completely, they hadn’t. The calls began again & when I’d point out that we’d already made all of the agreed-upon installments on said debt, I was told various things to the effect of ‘that representative must have misspoke because that only paid the ongoing interest, amount over limit, & the over limit fees you were being charged each month’. I was at a complete loss by then.

Yes, I finally did just stop answering the phone. For my own sanity. I gave up. It felt hopeless. All that money we’d sunk into these payment arrangements thinking we’d paid off the debts was wasted &, with an illness that’s further amplified by stress, there was just no way for me to take it anymore. Then came the days when these lovely people who are crying for your respect & sympathy began the semi-legal practice of ‘skip-tracing‘. This means they began calling neighbors & family members to see if we still lived at the address they had on file. That part is, unfortunately, legal. Shady, but legal. However, they crossed the line each time they told one of those neighbors or family members that the call was regarding a debt. That is not legal at all. The skip tracers are only allowed to ask if you live at said address. That is all. Period. However, if you’re struggling to keep up with the bills in the first place, how can you afford the attorney needed to charge these liars with a crime? Worse yet, a relative of mine happens to have the same first name as I do, but not last name. The skip tracer on this particular call only asked for me by my first name. Once he began speaking about the nature of the call, my relative realized he had the wrong person. She tried to politely tell him (even giving her own last name) but he absolutely refused to believe her that she wasn’t me. He continued badgering her about making a payment by a certain date & giving out (‘confirming’ was what his eloquent phraseology) account numbers. She finally hung up on him.

There was also the company that called my father during their skip tracing adventures. Well, needless to say, my father was less than amused with me for getting in this predicament. This just so happened to be one of the aforementioned companies who we’d thought we’d paid off through those installment arrangements–one of the primary reasons I’d given up answering the calls in the first place, so I was pretty upset. I called the company & asked them to please never call my father again. At this point, since they’d finally succeeded in baiting me onto the phone (my mistake), the young man proceeded to tell me the only way he’d stop calling my father was if I came up with ‘x’ amount of dollars by the end of the week.  The amount may as well have been a million, the way things were going for us & I said there was no way we could do that. His response was that there was no way he’d quit calling my father then. He then proceeded to inform me that he’d seen what I look like & that I sounded like a clever girl & he was sure I could “figure out some way of coming up with the money quickly” & I’d “probably only have to lay on my back to do it.” Oh yes, at this point, I went off. This man had, in no uncertain terms, just told me to become a prostitute to pay a credit card bill! What would you do? He then began laughing at my obvious outrage & told me “it’s either that or you can always tell your father what a loser his daughter’s become & see if he’ll pity you enough to pay us”. At that, I admit I uttered a two-word phrase to him that I’m sure you can probably take a wild guess at & hung up.

“Next month debt collectors will come under the supervision of a hard-nosed new regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Until now, the profession had been regulated by a relatively toothless Federal Trade Commission, which had the ability to crack down on rogue debt collectors but could not write rules and regulations for the industry.

The new consumer bureau will have that authority, and it will share policing duties with the F.T.C. “

Where was this new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when I needed it so desperately? Because I had no idea that such an appalling conversation was going to occur & also because I could little afford the technology that would’ve enabled me to have recorded the call anyway, I was told by the FTC that I didn’t have anything to go on with which to even file a complaint. I was told the same by an attorney that I’d called for a consultation. With no recording of this young man’s abusive behavior, I didn’t have a case. A year later, they’d sold the debt to yet another company who paid a local law office to act on their behalf & were planning to take me to court. By this time, I’d paid off every other credit card except that one. Right or wrong, recording or no recording, I was trying to stand my ground that I wasn’t paying a dime toward anyone who’d told me to be a hooker & called me a loser. I told the female attorney my case had been assigned to at this law office the situation, again was asked if I had any recordings, & was basically told ‘oh well’. I did manage to find a little sympathy, oddly enough, with the client the local law office was representing, though. She understood why I’d refused to ever answer the phone to that prior company again & agreed to at least drop all interest accumulated from the date of that call as well as any fees associated with it–essentially bringing the amount owed back to what it was prior to that verbally abusive phone call. She referred me to a different attorney at the law office to speak with & he is actually an extremely kind gentleman. To this very day, though, I’m still slowly but surely paying off that credit card.

Ms. Rogers, in this NY Times article is quoted as saying: “Instead of playing games,” she said, “just admit that you don’t have money and we’ll go from there.”

Well, we didn’t play games at first, Ms. Rogers. People just like you did. Your statement above is, in itself, an outright lie. We made the agreed-upon arrangements & it still wasn’t enough. ‘Oops, that representative must have been mistaken’? Sorry. That’s playing games. You admitted to game-playing & lies yourself, Ms. Rogers. As a matter of fact, you fear what will happen to you for your professional bullying that you use the pseudonym, Melissa Burg, that you “pulled from the phone book” to do your job. Gee, Ms. Rogers, did you ever for one moment stop to think how Melissa Burg feels if someone you or one of your colleagues has harassed or lied to one too many times gets in touch with her? Isn’t your use of her name to conduct business without her express written permission a form of identity theft?

The events I have mentioned from the viewpoint of the consumer are a scratch to the surface of what my family & I have been put through by debt collectors over the years. I’ve heard horror stories of debt collectors calling debtors only to reach a grieving mother on the other end of the line because their child committed suicide over the harassment & hopelessness that these pit vipers dish out! And yes, even then, they informed that mother that someone was going to have to pay. These people are trained to insult, degrade, lie, belittle, & bully the general public into paying up by any means necessary. Most of them work on commission & will use any tactic they can in order to make money.

Do you think for a moment that we wanted to be in a position that we couldn’t pay our bills on time? Do you think for a minute that we wanted to be harassed day & night? No! We’re not those kind of people! Rest assured, folks, debt collectors think you’re nothing more than a slacker. Believe me. I’ve been through it. Don’t even dream of thinking someone in that profession will ever get any respect from me, nor are they deserving of it. They don’t care about you, they don’t really want to work with you, they want their commission. Plain & simple.

Yes, I laughed at the headline when I first read it because the mere thought of these people begging for mercy is completely laughable. I am absolutely offended, outraged, & appalled that people like Lesllie Rogers have the nerve to complain & play the victim on this issue while they mentally torture those already suffering financial hardship for whatever reason. Please spare me. I don’t ever want to wish anything really bad on someone, but there is a part of me that at least hopes that one day most of these debt collectors walk at least 10 miles in the shoes of those they victimize & abuse every day. Respect is earned Ms. Rogers, not given or ‘paid’.

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