Saturday, September 23, 2006

I receive three to five calls every day from a collection agency seeking payment for $5,000 in medical bills.

Dear Robert Paisola

I receive three to five calls every day from a collection agency seeking payment for $5,000 in medical bills. The thing is, I am not the woman they're looking for. My name is not even the same as hers, but even though I asked them to stop calling, they didn't. They have told me that I am lying, that I am in fact this other person and that I need to learn to pay my bills. I have gone so far as to ask for a manager, and they hang up on me, or they just give me the runaround. I am ready to sue them for harassment. I have considered changing my phone number. Where is the humanity?

Answer: Obviously, humanity is in short supply at this particular collection agency.

You could use caller ID or an answering machine to start screening your calls. But you really shouldn't have to hide from a belligerent collector who's clearly in the wrong.

Calling you repeatedly to harass you about a debt is a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, even if you owed the money — which of course you don't.

The act also gives you the right to demand that a collector stop contacting you, and the collector is required to comply. You can sue collectors who ignore the law for $1,000 for every violation.

To invoke your right, though, you need to send your request in writing to the offending collector. That means you need to find out which collection agency is calling you, and its address.

The collector was supposed to send you a written notice about the debt within five days after it first contacted you. If it actually did, then you should have all the information you need to send the letter. If not, you have another violation of the law to add to your lawsuit, if you decide to sue.

Assuming you don't have the required letter, you may be able to use an Internet reverse phone directory such as to track down this information if the callers left a return phone number.

If not, you can simply try asking for the company's name and address the next time the collector calls, although the callers' previous reluctance to refer you to a manager indicates they may be coy about providing such details.

If that's the case, you might try saying something vaguely cooperative like, "If I were to pay this debt, where would I send the money?" Obviously, don't agree that you actually do owe the money or make any bogus repayment arrangements.

Once you have the information, send the company a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Explain that you are not the person they're seeking, that you want them to stop contacting you immediately and that if they don't you will sue them for their various violations of the collection practices law.

Keep copies of the letter and consider taping any further contacts you have with the collector (inform them you're taping, to make sure you're on the right side of phone-tapping laws).

If you do want to pursue a lawsuit, you might consider contacting an attorney who specializes in fair debt collection laws. You can get a referral from the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates at or

Suing Grandpa for Owed Cash Isn't a Good Option

Dear Robert:
You recently responded to a question about a grandfather who contributed money to a custodial account and then took it back. Your response seems to me to be inadequate. The grandfather didn't promise the money and then renege; he transferred it to the account and then embezzled it by withdrawing the cash and using it for his own purposes. A criminal offense is likely, and the help of a prosecutor might get the desired result, right?

Answer: Even if the "desired result" is seeing Grandpa in jail, the answer is no. Police and prosecutors in most areas are too busy with far more serious crimes to do much about a grandfather pilfering money from a custodial account.

There's no question that what the grandfather did was wrong. Money in a custodial account belongs to the minor for whom the account was opened. The grandson could file a civil lawsuit, but as I mentioned in the original column, suing family members is a pretty poor way to resolve disputes.

No comments: