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Debt Collector Pseudonyms

posted by Adam Levitin

Story here about debt collectors using pseudonyms because of the abuse they get. I don't doubt it. Debt collectors aren't exactly popular folks. I was recently searching for cartoons of various consumer finance topics and there were by far the most about debt collectors, none flattering. But I don't think that makes it ok for a debt collector to use a pseudonym.

I think using a pseudonym might itself violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  The FDCPA prohibits "any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt," including "The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer."

I'm not sure that a consumer is likely to be harmed in any way by a debt collector using a pseudonym like John Smith, but perhaps use of a pseudonym emboldens debt collectors to be more aggressive. Remember, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has multiple provisions to protect debtors from abuse by debt collectors. (Hey, there's that "abuse" term that has everyone so worried in the Consumer Financial Protection Act...)

Of course, there's a wee enforcement problem--how does one know if a debt collector is using a pseudonym, unless it's something like "Barack Obama"? (Impersonating a government official is itself an FDCPA violation.)

Comments

Adam,
Likelihood of harm is irrelevant, isn't it? You're up on the FDCPA aren't you? Doesn't it prohibit lying?

If so this is a strict liability statute where the penalties are set by law, including attorney's fees.

So if a debt collector lies to you they owe you money, it's as simple as that, right? Lying about what their name is should be exactly the same as lying about the debt they are collecting, or what city they are in, or anything else. Strict liability.

Congress did that intentionally so there wouldn't be any more of that nonsense from debt collectors. No arguing how inconsequential the lie is. Nothing like that. You break the law, the penalty is, what, $1000, I think? So just pay up.

Did you hear about the California State Senator and attorney whose wages were garnisheed by a debt collector a couple of weeks ago? Wrong person, same name, different address and social. Just you wait, the debt collection law firm will be doing damage control on that one. It was humorous. And he will be owed damages I just bet.

It appears to me the the reporter got spun like a top on this one. He wrote a cutesy story about how the mean old debtors hurt the feelings of those delicate collection callers. Only in paragraph 17 do we get the real message: the collectors' group "wants its members to have the ability to contact debtors using modern technology, including e-mail, cellphones and autodialers, all of which create problems under the current rules."

Comment spam about cycling clothing, and here we are with no "report spam" button. What is the website operator thinking?

Better delete that comment spam right away so their spamming will be useless.

Steevo (and all Credit Slips readers), I try to review the comments each morning and delete any spam that shows up.

When I used to work for a firm that did consumer collections, pseudonyms were discouraged but permitted. However, if one were to adopt a pseudonym, they always had to consistently use the same pseudonym, especially when dealing with a debtor they had already spoken to.

It's far easier to simply go by your first name, and, in situations where it seems necessary, to not give out your last name. As for debtors abusing collectors, it was like show business: you either develop thick enough skin to deal with the hecklers or find a new line of work.

I have offered this solution to this problem some years ago - any communication, written or otherwise, which does not carry the full corporate identity of the collector involved AND the genuine name of a REAL person with authority to issue such cannot be introduced as evidence of communication from the collector.

In other words, those utterly specious mass (supposed) notifications with nothing but a P.O. box as a return address are worthless.

Frankly, there is so much junk mail today posing as "official" nonsense that unless you recognize the source there should be no legitimate requirement that you open it unless it is certified/RRR.

If I don't know who is sending it, it goes in the garbage without opening it.

By the by, my standard advice to consumer clients about collection calls goes something like this: "Nothing important happens in collection calls; feel free to ignore them. If it is important, you will get something in the mail. The callers are low-level people with no authority anyway. Do not return any calls. Screen them if you can. If someone does get you on the phone and is being civil enough that you want to give them a civil answer, try, "We are reviewing our finances and may know more in a month or two; goodbye." No one can harass you over the phone unless you help them out by holding it up to your ear; so, don't. It really is that simple.

Well, I have been called many things over a span of 40 years in collections so one story isn't really one story, it is many stories just like there are many bad ones. Maybe all would be served better with no calls, no collection notices but just summons to appear in court. Another option-no one has to pay their bills at all. After all,the 95% of consumers who do repay their obligations have it all wrong as I probably do since I am a low level person who increases the size of garbage space.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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