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Pesky debt collectors may not be legit

Pesky debt collectors may not be legit

(Scams, Credit and Money Matters) Permanent link

As we’ve mentioned before on All Consuming, there are legitimate and bogus debt collectors. KIRO TV interviewed Consumer Protection Chief Doug Walsh for a story about debt collectors who try to collect money you don’t actually owe. Walsh said:

"You get a lot of direct mail pitches about 'you owe us this money' with an urgent notice and all sorts of threatening language in there. They create apprehension in the consumer. They just do anything they can to get rid of it, but they may not owe the debt at all. I think we're talking about scammers when we're talking about seeking to enforce a debt that's stale, or was discharged in bankruptcy, or you don't owe it. They're shaking you down for money that they can't collect. So those are pure scam artists and some of them are criminals."

Collectors cannot pursue a debt once you've proven that it's not yours. So if you don’t owe it, you need to act. Ask your bank or creditors to give you written proof, then send a copy of that proof to the collection agency.

With many consumers in financial crisis these days, legitimate debt collection companies are also working overtime. Remember, if you truly owe the debt, you have legal rights.


Posted by AGO Blog Moderator at 10/20/2008 01:00:40 PM | 

Yes, you have some rights - it seems to me the protection is limited mostly to preventing harassing or inappropriate contacts and coercion. But beyond that there is little in the laws that protects you against the tactics of debt collectors. The state law is conspicuously lacking in any real protection for the debtor to assure that collection agents are being fair and not fraudulent or predatory or to assure you protection if the agents are collecting for a debt that isn't even yours!! Those that tend to end up with a bad debt are not all schmucks just trying to scam out of a debt but rather many people just got in over their heads using poor consumer credit judgment while other may have just been overwhelmed with medical bills. Then there are the debts owed to the court system which are hard to deny if you have one. No matter what how you incurred the debt, when you make an effort to honestly to clear that debt, you should be protected from excessive fees and interest, misappropriated payments, and unending garnishments for unidentified debts. As it is there is nothing in the law books that prevents the collector from doing any of the above because there is nothing in the law books that assures the debtor an accurate accounting of the original debt, accrual of interest and fees, or monies paid in good faith. The law requires the collector validate the debt ONLY if you dispute it. So they can collect on a debt they don't even know if you really owe!! Now if that isn't an opening for fraud or one more way identity theft can destroy you financially, I don't know what is. Lets be candid and acknowledge the fact that those that end up with debts in collection are generally those with the least resources so their ability to hire an attorney to represent them is typically next none. It's a set up all the way around. And reading between the lines of the laws and rules and the requirement for licensing and bonding of agents, it appears that the trade is not known for their honesty. So why is it that the ower of a small debt becomes the sacrificial lamb thrown to the wolves but the ower of the large debt (home mortgages) who are just as guilty of using poor judgment and making unwise decisions being treated innocent victims?? So don't give me that line that the law protects you from the mean collection monster because it really doesn't. The need to protect against scare tactics and harassment is outdated. The current reality the law makers need to address is the need to protect the consumer's -- yes even the small guy who has no investments or savings or pension -- financial wellness from the ever growing number of financial predators.
Posted by: stephanie zurenko ( Email ) at 12/6/2008 5:23 AM

i had a small debt on a [EDITED BY BLOG MODERATOR - NAME OF DEPARTMENT STORE] card. the balance was up to date and i had never contacted the creditor about inability to pay. this morning i received 3 sequencial phone calls from their collections company verbally threatening me over payment. the first time they called all i said was " i payed it" and i hung up the phone. the very same woman called me back 3 seconds later and told me that my balance of $45 dollars was sitting there collecting interest. i told her i had no interest in speaking with her and again hung up the phone. she yet again called me back and said, because i gave her an attitude that she was sending me to collections and contacting my employer about my debt. all of that over a debt that was not even defaulted. i immediately paid the remaining balance and contacted [EDITED - NAME OF DEPARTMENT STORE] about the disgraceful manor in which their associates were treating their customers. my question to you is whether or not this behavior is legal? how can a company threaten y0u with collections and harassment at your office when the debt in question isnt even default? i was also wondering if the company is allowed to continue contacting you after you have told them not to call you about the matter again. thank you for your time.

erin crommett
Posted by: erin crommett ( Email ) at 12/15/2008 4:29 PM

Hello Erin,

A collection agency cannot call or write to you more than three times a week. Only one of those calls can be at work. You cannot be called between 9 p.m. and 8 am.

A collection agency cannot harass, intimidate, threaten or embarrass you.

A collection agency cannot threaten violence, criminal prosecution or use offensive language.

If you send a written statement requesting a collection agency to stop, it cannot continue to call or write to you to demand payment.

You can find more information about your rights at

If you have a complaint against a specific collection agency, you may file a complaint with our Consumer Resource Center online at this link:


Posted by: Kristin Alexander ( Email | Visit ) at 12/16/2008 1:59 PM

A question. My daughter went to a dentist, he looked at her, told her she needs to get 6 teeth removed and made x-ray. She did not go to this dentist, of course, for services. They requested insurance info and she gave it to them. They requested a note from her school (University) that she is a student and she faxed it to them. Without the note they could not submit the claim to the insurance. After 6 or so months they called her, told her that she did not send them a note from school and that she owes them $230.00 and if she does not pay they send it to collection agency and she will have to pay $600 instead.
Is it legal to increase the debt in this manner?

Thank you!
Posted by: Bob Masters ( Email ) at 7/10/2009 3:18 PM

Hello Bob,

Thank you for reading All Consuming. Your request is for a legal opinion. However, it is outside this office’s scope to provide you with legal advice or an interpretation of the law for your specific situation.

Generally speaking, it is not unusual for a business to charge overdue fees for an unpaid debt.

It seems to me that your daughter just needs to notify her dentist of her insurance plan again and explain the situation. I would encourage her to resolve the issue prior to her bill being sent to collections, where it likely will ding her credit file.

If there is a concern about the insurance provider, then she should file her complaint with the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner –

If there is a concern about the dentist’s collection practices, she may wish to file a complaint with our office to request informal mediation.


Posted by: KRISTIN ALEXANDER - ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email ) at 8/6/2009 5:59 PM

Hello, My wife and I are swamped with medical bills due to my chemotherapy/disability and having to survive on just her income. Bill collectors are making repeated calls to her place of employment -which is a threat to her employment as personal business on business phones is NOT acceptable.
They don't care that she could lose her job, and they'd get nothing. What can she/we do to stop them from calling her at work -short of filing for bankruptcy?
Thanks, Mark
Posted by: Mark McCarthy ( Email ) at 9/16/2009 8:54 AM

Mark, ’m sorry to hear about your health and financial struggles, and wish you a speedy recovery.

A collection agency cannot call or write to you more than three times a week. Only one of those calls can be at work. You cannot be called between 9 pm and 8 am. I would encourage you to file a complaint with our office regarding any debt collector that doesn’t follow the law. In addition, a collection agency can’t continue to contact you once you’ve notified them in writing not to do so. See for further information about your rights.

You may also be able to benefit from credit counseling. A legitimate credit counselor can help you regain control of your finances by designing a realistic budget that allows you to pay off your existing debts, cover your everyday expenses and save for the future. For a referral to a local credit counselor, call 211 or visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Web site at
Posted by: KRISTIN ALEXANDER, ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email ) at 10/5/2009 2:41 PM

This portion of the blog begins with 'Collectors cannot pursue a debt once you've proven that it's not yours. So if you don’t owe it, you need to act. Ask your bank or creditors to give you written proof, then send a copy of that proof to the collection agency.'
I received a bill from an attorneys office regarding a bill I did not think was mine. I sent a certified return receipt request for validation but never received a response. So I sent a 2nd certified return receipt - request for validation and again never received a response. The attorneys office filed suit and took me to court. I explained this to the judge and gave proof. The proof I submitted into the court file were the copies of request for validation,the UPS certified letter statement's and request verification receipt statement's. This was all ignored by the judge because I did not make this request during the Court proceedings. I had made the request prior to this case being filed. Later, it was explained to me by another attorney that the local county civil courts do not enforce federal laws, only state laws.
Please note: I also requested proof of licensing which I did not receive because the plaintiff was and currently is not licensed in washington state as a debt collection agency.
The plaintiff won there case and I owe on a debt that I did not owe. I ask you, where is the fairness in this?
Washington State needs to rewrite their consumer protection laws so the laws are clear for both the lay person and the judicial system. Currently the laws are biased for the business side and not the consumer. This should be fair to both sides.
And the Federal and State laws should BOTH be upheld in our local County Civil courts.
Posted by: Julie Heinz-Bovino ( Email ) at 2/8/2010 10:04 AM

I have my vehical financed through firside bank. I am only 18 days past due and they started calling me like they usualy do. I told them how much I will pay and when I will be able to pay. They asked for a check over the phone to secure the payment.(I dont have a checking account)I told them this and they said that since I cant secure it with a check over the phone the calls will continue. I have been reciving a phone call every day since.One day I got 3 calls (i asnwered all 3) Some days I would get multiple calls but i would not answer couse i was just frustrated with them.My question is how many times a week can they legagly call me and how many times per day can they call befor its herrasment?Thanks
Posted by: mary ( Email ) at 3/9/2010 9:55 AM

hi i have a lot of medical bill , i have been working with them all to make payment but i have one that said that i could only pay 500 . 00 a month will not take anything less.i told them that right now i could do 25 for now ,till i get some of the other ones payed off i have 8 other medical bills that i am paying form one medical problem. they haven,t even given me a year to take care of it all and it total of all my bills for this is about 15000.oo dollars. they all want more then 25 a month but what i, am to do pay then and have no food or let one or two goto collection i have try working with this person but the won,t do it i pay 500.00 or nothing [ALL CONSUMING BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Marlene, I'm sorry to hear about your financial struggles. I would encourage you to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor who can offer suggestions. Call 1-800-388-2227 or visit]
Posted by: marlene ( Email ) at 3/12/2010 12:05 PM

This is in response to Mary's question about how often her bank can call her about a car loan payment.

While laws restrict the number of times that debt collection agencies may call you, banks and businesses collecting for their own accounts are exempted under Washington State’s Collection Agency statute. (See RCW 19.16.100(3)(c).) In addition, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not apply to businesses (including banks) that are collecting for themselves.

Your bank might have an internal policy regarding how often it can contact you.

Unfortunately, if you don’t make your payments, your lender may repossess your vehicle – and your blemished credit history can make it difficult for you to obtain another loan in the future. Please see our related blog post about how to avoid a repo when you can’t make a car payment.

If you’re struggling to make your payments, you may also want to speak to a nonprofit credit counselor. For a referral to a local credit counselor, call 211 or visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Web site at
Posted by: KRISTIN ALEXANDER, ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email | Visit ) at 3/16/2010 9:28 AM

my husband has a old medical bill from 2006 for $7000.00 but now they said it has gone up to $10,000.00. He is just now hearing from a attorney the collection agency hired. They are threatening to proceed with collection action to recover the amount sought. What will this mean? What can this do? We have no house for collateral to pay this bill and when we offered to make payments in 2007 when my husband was working the collection agency refused any type of payment plan. My husband has also been unemployed for the past two years and has just went back to work this week. Can we ask the attorney to settle for less, and if so, how much can the attorney go down? [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Sorry, we can't give you legal advice. If you have a complaint about a business or debt collector, you may file it with our office. Please also read our consumer advice on dealing with debt, found under Safeguarding Consumers.]
Posted by: Pamela Smith ( Email ) at 4/13/2010 7:32 AM

I am the mother of 3 grown children, they have been gone from the home for several years. One uses my address as a mail box, mail is received in care of my self and my husband. We started gettting calls from a bill collector for this child and I explained that the person they wanted to speak to did not reside here and when I saw that person I would give the message. I did give the message, it is not up to me as a parent to sit a 39 yr old down and say make the call. The collector started calling every morning as soon as it is legal, I tell them over and over, same answer. They keep calling. I explain to them that my husband and I are not in the best of health and sometimes it is hard for my husband to run to the phone when he can hardly walk.I asked them to not call here any more. If the child of ours they wanted to speak to called them fine, if not its not our fault. Please leave us alone. They continued to call. finally I blew my top and told them if they did not stop calling I would call the Attygen. The calls stopped for a few days, now they are at it again for the afore mentioned childs sibling, that one does not live at home either. Help [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: You need to file a consumer complaint.]
Posted by: Susan Freeman ( Email ) at 9/15/2010 10:44 AM

Help! I recieved a call today from a woman claiming to be an investigator from the Central Legal Network. She left all the information on my voicemail first of all. She said I was being named the respondent, and was going to have a restraining order against me. She never once said she was from a debt collection agency. I have found through my own research that she is. I am disabled and my only source of income is disability and childsupport. I know that I have bad debt out there but I have no means to pay it or I would gladly. I have never before recieved anything in writing this is the first time I have heard from this company. A lot of the advise I found online said not to even speak to them. I don't know what to do is it a scam, is it even legal I don't know.... [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: PLEASE CALL OUR CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTER AT 1-800-551-4636.]
Posted by: Katrina Austin ( Email ) at 1/26/2011 6:53 PM

I keep getting phone calls for several people with the same last name and first initial as mine. I have called them back and even spoken to them. They still keep calling me at all hours of the night and day. I am on the do not call list and don't know what else to do, please help... [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: You need to tell them in writing to stop calling because they have the wrong person. If they continue, file a consumer complaint.]
Posted by: Linda Carter ( Email ) at 5/14/2011 8:43 AM

I live out of state but I'm still a wa resident. I received a medical bill out of the blue in my name sent here. I would like to know how long a debt is able to be collected on. I know that this bill would be almost 12 yrs old. I will be sending them a letter about the proof for the date of service but I need to know how long they do have to collect any debts? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: The statute of limitations on a debt varies depending on the circumstances. A private attorney can look at your situation and determine the length of time.]
Posted by: Donna ( Email ) at 10/12/2011 10:34 AM

Hi, I have a question about medical bills in collection.
I have been trying to work out a payment plan with teh hospital, but I was ignored or proposed only plans that clearly I couldn't afford. Then the hospital sent my account to collection and yesterday I got a very ugly phone call from the collection agency telling me that they will take me to court if I don't pay the bill in full right now. I calmly explained that I can't pay in full. The agent then said for me to take a loan, he doesn't care if I can't afford it. That I had no business using services I can't afford. That was very rude. It was my husband who needed help that he was having heart attach symptoms when in turn was PTSD later diagnised as enxiety, or somethign like that. My husband served this country for over 6 years and this is the treatment he gets- harrassments! So my question is can the collection agency take us to court for not being able to pay the bill in full instead of workign out a payment plan with them? Can I just go to the hospital in person and talk to the billing department and work something out?
Thank you for your advise.
[ALL CONUSMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Unfortunately, yes the collection agency can sue you and your husband for this debt if their client (hospital) has authorized it nor do they have to take a payment arrangement. Although, most collection agencies will try to work out some sort of payment arrangement to get the debt paid.]
Posted by: Dana ( Email ) at 3/22/2012 7:53 AM

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