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Debt Collectors, Behave. Or Else.


If you've been hounded, threatened, pressured or lied to by relentless debt collectors, you'll like this news. Who else but the nation's consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), has decided to step into the fray to make sure they behave.

The CFPB says it's now taking your complaints about debt collectors involved with all kinds of debt - credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, medical bills and student loans. The agency will forward your gripe to the collection agency, which has 15 days to respond. With this new procedure, officials expect most complaints to be resolved within 60 days.

CFPB Director Richard Cordray says that any company (whether it's the original creditor, debt collectors hired by the creditor, or third-party collectors buying old debts) that collects a debt using unfair, deceptive or abusive practices will be held accountable.

Consumers need options to help them secure fair and respectful treatment from those debt collectors that fail to abide by the law,"  Cordray said in a statement.

Cordray made the announcement on Tuesday, the same day that the world's largest debt collection agency paid a $3.2 million fine to settle federal charges that it harassed customers. The company, Expert Global Solutions Inc., was accused by the Federal Trade Commission of calling consumers multiple times a day, calling them early in the morning or late at night, and calling them at work. It also accused the company of continuing to call consumers who denied owing any debt to creditors.

Complaints about the multibillion-dollar debt collection industry are nothing new. In May, the California attorney general's office filed a lawsuit accusing JP Morgan Chase of using fraudulent and abusive debt-collection practices against some 100,000 credit card holders in the state for at least three years.

Now with the CFPB asserting its authority, officials believe there will be fewer collectors who skirt the law.

The bureau issued two bulletins that put collectors on notice and warned them against making false statements, such as telling consumers that their credit report or score will improve if they pay the debt.

Among the practices it cited as harmful and possibly illegal:

  • Threatening action that collectors don't have the authority to pursue, such as arresting or prosecuting consumers if they don't pay up.
  • Falsely representing the amount or legal status of the debt.
  • Revealing consumers' debt to their employers without their consent.
  • Misrepresenting that a debt collection letter is from an attorney or government agency.
  • Telling consumers that their debts would be waived or forgiven if they accepted a settlement offer that wasn't in fact authorized by the creditor.

The bureau also created action letters you can download from its website and use to correspond with debt collectors. The letters are designed to help you dispute the debt, have the collector stop or limit contact with you, or help you get more information about the debt.

You can submit a debt collection complaint to the CFPB online, or download a fact sheet about debt collection issues.

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