One of those problems was loss of jobs. More than 30 years later, has the FDCPA succeeded in keeping unethical debt collectors from cheating consumers out of their jobs? Based on my experience, the answer is no.
My wife and I first started hearing from debt collectors in the spring of 2007. Is it coincidence that both of us, since that time, have lost our jobs--me at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and her at Infinity Property & Casualty?
Evidence strongly suggests that it is not a coincidence. And we suspect that even with the FDCPA, debt collectors still have the means to cost people their jobs--especially in a state like Alabama, with a toxic, "pro business" political environment.
Abusive debt collectors have a proud history of screwing up people's lives. Consider section 1692 of the FDCPA, which outlines Congressional findings and the purposes of the law:
There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.
Let's ponder that list of societal ills to which debt collectors contribute:
* Personal bankruptcies
* Marital instability
* Loss of Jobs
* Invasions of individual privacy
That's serious stuff. How have debt collectors traditionally cost people their jobs? Congress does not say. But we live in a society where most states have "at will" work laws, meaning your employer can fire you for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all--as long as they don't violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
Our guess is that calls from debt collectors to employers--combined with efforts to garnish wages--probably led many workplaces to fire employees. As we know from personal experience, debt collectors often have little or no proof that a debt is even owed.
How do debt collectors cheat people out of their jobs these days? Well, our experience suggests they can do it in multiple ways. My wife and I filed a lawsuit in July 2008 against two debt-collection outfits--NCO and Ingram & Associates--alleging multiple violations of the FDCPA and various state-law claims. It appears that my wife's unlawful termination at Infinity Property & Casualty is tied to our discovery efforts in that lawsuit.
My termination at UAB predates the lawsuit we filed. But it dovetails almost perfectly with original calls we received from debt collectors and the eventual selling of our house on the courthouse steps in Shelby County.
We find it mighty curious that it was debt collectors who originally threatened the sale of our house "on the courthouse steps." And it was corrupt Alabama attorney William E. Swatek who eventually carried out that threat, under the guise of seeking a judgment on behalf of our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity.
Is it possible that Swatek became aligned with debt collectors in a scheme that resulted in the loss of my job? We will be examining that question in detail in upcoming posts.
But for now, consider this: It's highly possible that debt collectors cheated both my wife and me out of our jobs--and it was over an alleged debt to American Express that they cannot even prove I owed. In fact, we learned in discovery that they don't have proof that I ever had an American Express card.
Recall this passage from an earlier post, regarding Ingram & Associates:
During the discovery process in the lawsuit, our attorneys (Darrell Cartwright and Allan Armstrong), made a number of simple requests that produced stunning replies from the defendants.
Our No. 1 request for production of documents from Ingram & Associates asks for the following:
Each and every document relating to any debt, allegedly owed by plaintiffs to American Express or NCO, including, but not limited to, any cardholder agreements signed by the plaintiff.
In other words, just show us the documents you have that prove Roger Shuler owes the debt--and that Roger Shuler signed a cardholder agreement with American Express. Sounds simple, right? Here was the response from Ingram & Associates:
Ingram & Associates does not have any documents from American Express.
Now let's digest that for a moment. Ingram & Associates called me and repeatedly said they had "been hired by American Express" to sue me. They repeatedly said that I owed a debt, and they could garnish my wages or have our house sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy that debt. (You will be hearing audiotapes of these conversations.) They called my wife and talked to her for roughly an hour, even though she had nothing to do with the alleged debt. All of these are violations of the FDCPA.
But Ingram & Associates had no documents from American Express proving that I owed the debt! They didn't even have a cardholder agreement showing I ever had an American Express card, much less one for which I owed a debt!
NCO didn't have any proof that I owed the debt either:
Now let's consider NCO, the folks who hired Ingram & Associates. No. 28 in our request for production of documents from NCO reads as follows:
A copy of any and all documents which you allege create an obligation by the plaintiffs for the account you are attempting to collect.
It couldn't be more simple. Just show us the documents upon which you base your allegation that Roger Shuler owes a debt to American Express. Here is the answer:
NCO objects to this request to the extent plaintiffs are seeking documents outside NCO's custody or control. Notwithstanding said objections, none.
Now let's digest that for a moment. NCO sicced Ingram & Associates on us because I allegedly owed a debt to American Express. But when asked to produce documents from American Express that show I owed the debt, NCO says they don't have any.
So not only will debt collectors cost you a job, but they apparently will do it even when it involves a "debt" that they can't prove you owe.
Thirty-plus years after the passage of the FDCPA, it's hard to go much lower than that.
Bill Maher said that one has to "wonder when people will rise up and start killing bankers." From my point of view, it's more specifically the abusive debt collectors who will be the ones suffering the wrath of the people.
For those who may be interested:
There's a Ft. Worth, TX consumer advocate named Bud Hibbs, who has made a career of exposing and fighting debt collectors and agencies, usually with very successful results.
Here's a link to his website:
This guy has helped me many times, and let me tell you--he's good. He's very good! Please take a look.
Some debt collection attorneys are more real estate speculator than lawyer. They will arrange to have you fired because instead of getting garnished wages at $50 a week for years on end, they get the more attractive option of immediately putting your house on the auction block, buying it themselves and flipping it for tons of cash in addition to the pittance sum you owed your creditors.
From my involvement in this industry, I whole heartedly support the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the movement against harassing debt collectors as this protects the honest providers in the industry.
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