In terms of consumer insights, what makes this article somewhat unique is that we have the benefit of the actual email dialogue between the debt collector and the consumer in this case. Such a view is somewhat rare in the annals of consumer literature about debt collection. 🔎
So, when the consumer granted us permission to add this dialogue to our consumer insights library, we jumped at the chance. As you will see, the dialogue spanned about four weeks, and we've added to that dialogue our commentary on what we think worked well and why.
First, some context
The prevailing mindset in the debt collection industry is that, if a given consumer does not believe that there would be a consequence for not paying an alleged debt, then that consumer is unlikely to make the payment (on which the debt collector's paycheck depends).
For this reason, debt collectors not only depend on consequences but also on the threats used to convey those consequences.
This has always been understood in the debt collection industry. But, before 1977, that understanding led to some really nasty behaviors by debt collectors in the United States. Examples:
- Threat of arrest for non-payment
- Threat of bodily harm for non-payment
- Threats to family members and friends if they did not reveal the location of an alleged debtor.
- "Public-shaming campaigns" wherein collectors published lists of people alleged to have owed but not paid a debt.
Wishing to curb those brutish behaviors, in 1977, US Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) “to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors[.]” The FDCPA prohibits “unfair” debt collection practices but does not specifically define the term “unfair.”
While the decades of case law that have followed since the FDCPA's passage have provided us with plenty of examples of acts that might constitute an “unfair” debt collection practice, the fact that the term "unfair" remains undefined gives debt collectors cause for concern when contacting a consumer about an alleged debt. Why is this? Because debt collectors do not want to run afoul of the FDCPA, and the lack of a clear definition shrouds their debt collection activities in constant risk of an FDCPA violation, whether intentional or not.
How to get debt collectors to go away without paying
With this context in mind, here is a weird--but effective--trick that one consumer in Virginia used when he was contacted by a debt collector (named Pamela Ashcroft, from the debt collection firm Tucker, Albin & Associates, Inc.)...