Though there are laws in Florida regarding how debt collection agents can do their jobs, this does not stop many from attempting to collect the debt using threats and harassment. A Florida woman knows that all too well. The kicker? The debt over which she is being harassed is not hers.
In reality, the woman who has been married for 45 years is employed full-time and pays cash for most of her purchases. Despite this, she has been hounded by debt collectors for the past eight years who are seeking to collect money on debts another Florida woman using the same name has accumulated. The purchases the creditors have tried to hold her responsible for include a $1,000 furniture purchase and a credit card bill of $11,000.
Under Florida law, collection agencies are limited in how they can go about trying to collect debt. Among other things, they are not allowed to contact debtors at work, repeatedly harass them over the phone or call them names. According to the Consumers Union, violations of consumer protection laws are on the rise. Gail Hillebrand, director of Consumers Union’s Defend Your Dollars campaign has said “the debt collection system is in dire need of reform.”
According to the woman’s attorney, the length of time the harassment has continued is due to something called bill collector “hopscotching.” Under this method, after one collection company gets as much money as possible from the alleged debtor, it sells the debt to another collection company for much less than is allegedly owed. They cycle is then repeated, ending only when collectors no longer feel a profit can be made. So far the woman has dealt with two collection companies. Both times the cases were settled. Nonetheless, she still receives calls from other creditors because her name was not removed from files before being sold to the next agency.
Oddly enough, even when a debtor owes money to a harassing creditor, if the creditor violated consumer protection laws in Florida, the debtor may be able to collect damages. In those cases, collection agencies also have to pay legal fees to the plaintiff’s attorney representing the harassed debtor.
Though after years of dealing with collection agencies, the credit score of the woman in this case is quite low, she receives some financial compensation as each time she is wrongly harassed she files a lawsuit. She currently has a third lawsuit in the works.
Source: Tampa Bay Online, “Mixed identities means woman hounded by collectors,” Mark Douglas, Aug. 26, 2011