PSI: Getting the bill collector calls to stop

By Jamie Boll - bio l email

Produced by Jeff Keene - email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -  Russell Klug could be any of us.  He's another casuality of a rotten economy.

"I never thought in a million years I would be in this situation," said Klug standing in the driveway of his Fort Mill, SC home.

Klug has lost his job, is collecting unemployment for the first time in his life and is hearing from bill collectors.  Most notably he's hearing from Chase Auto Finance.

"They actually called me within a one-hour span every ten minutes," said Klug.

Klug took out a 6-year loan to buy his SUV.  He had been making payments for five years, until he missed two payments this spring.   After the gap, he started making payments again.  It wasn't good enough for Chase.  The company wanted the entire past-due balance.

"We're not saying we don't owe the bill," said Klug. "We owe the bill we want to pay it, but unfortunately we're behind with everyone right now."

Klug says he tried to work out a new payment schedule, but he says Chase wouldn't go for it. It's when the phone calls started.  His cell phone rang several times a day, nearly every day.

"There's a grey area, that's beyond the grey area," said Klug. "I know the do's and don'ts of collections."

How does he know the do's and don'ts?  Klug worked for a bill collection company.

The rules of bill collection are spelled out in the "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act," or FDCPA. The federal law was passed by Congress after a surge in consumer complaints.  The Federal Trade Commission takes nearly 300,000 complaints a year on debt collection companies.

"People do get into situations where they owe money, but these people still have rights," said assistant professor Susan Rowe of the Charlotte School of Law.

Among the rights is to not be harassed by a bill collector.  The law defines harassment in part by, "causing a telephone to ring...repeatedly, or continuously."

"Congress was clearly very concerned about these types of practices," said Rowe.

The law also allows consumers to order the calls to stop altogether.  Borrowers can write a cease and desist letter.  The FDCPA says after receiving it, "the debt collector shall not communicate further."

"The best way to do that is by certified mail, return receipt requested," said Rowe.  "So that you can show the collector received the item."

Klug did send a cease and desist letter.  A receipt shows it was signed for by a Chase employee back in June.  The calls kept coming, by the dozens.

The WBTV "Problem Solvers" called Chase.  The company in a written statement admits it got the cease and desist letter.  The company says, "due to employee error, Mr. Klug received several calls from Chase after the receipt."

Chase says the error has been corrected and "Mr. Klug will not receive any more calls."

The calls have stopped.  It doesn't, however,  mean the debt has gone away.  Klug says he knows that and has ever intention of paying off the loan.

"I fully intend to honor that debt," said Klug.