My wife and I recently received a call from a debt collection agency. They didn’t identify who they were in the voice mail or that they were calling to collect a debt. When we called back, some guy said he was with The Northland Group and claimed we owned some money on a Capital One credit card. The problem is, we don’t have a Capital One credit card. We have never had a Capital One credit card. We explained this to the Northland Group guy, but of course he didn’t believe us. The guy on the phone wanted our social security numbers “to confirm.” Yea, right. When we wouldn’t give him any personal information, he asked, “so now what are you going to do?” My response, “Nothing, what are you going to do?” The conversation quickly went down hill, and we asked him not to call us again. His response was classic–“What are you going to do, call the phone police?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and here’s how.
If you have debt collectors chasing you, whether you owe the money or not, you need to be aware of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (pdf download). The FDCPA offers many protections for consumers that prohibit a debt collector from engaging in any of the following: harassment or abuse (Sec. 806), making false or misleading representations (Sec. 807), or engaging in certain unfair practices (Sec. 808). For our purposes today, it also has a provision that allows you to stop a debt collector from contacting you except in limited circumstances.
Section 805 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Section 805 has some great protections for consumers. First, it prohibits debt collectors from contacting at you at “unusual” times, which generally means they can only contact you between 8 am and 9 pm. A debt collector also cannot contact you if they know you are represented by an attorney. And they cannot contact you at your place of employment if they know or should know that your employer does not permit such calls at work. And now let’s turn to the phone police.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act arms consumers with the ability to stop further calls or other contact from a bill collector. Simply notify the debt collector in writing either that you refuse the pay the debt or that you wish the debt collector to stop any further communication. It’s as simple as that. Now the statute does allow debt collectors to contact you after such a notice is sent for certain limited circumstances, but they can’t continue to contact you simply to collect the debt.
It is important to understand that sending this notice won’t make the problem go away. If you owe the debt, they may very well file a lawsuit to collect. But it will stop the calls. So Mr. Northland Group guy, I am going to call in the phone police. And if after receiving my written notice, you call anyway, the statute has some nice penalties I can slap you with. Check out Section 813.
Other steps we took in response to the call
I should add a couple of things about the call from the Northland Group. After receiving the call, I immediately checked our credit reports. This can be done for free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. No record of the debt shows up on our credit reports. This tells me either that the creditor has not notified the credit reporting agencies (not likely) or that the individual using our identity does not have our social security numbers (more likely).
Also, the Northland Group has not provided us with validation of the debt in writing as required by Section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This tells me either that the Northland Group is simply violating the statute or they have the wrong address. Finally, we also called Capital One to inquire about this debt. They told us they have no record of any accounts in our name or of ever having used the Northland Group to collect debts. I’m not sure what’s going on with this debt collection agency, but I would say that you should never give out personal information if you receive a call like this. We don’t even give them our names.