Monday, July 20, 2009

Beware of Scavenger Debt Collectors

You defaulted on your credit card debt a long time ago. Your credit report indicates that the debt was written off by the credit card company a year ago. Your account was turned over to a collection agency who sent you a few form letters and called you a few times, but eventually they gave up and now you're home free. You think you got out of paying this debt, right? Don't get too comfortable just yet.

There is a new investment opportunity and it isn't real estate. It is debt collecting. Groups of investors are forming companies and purchasing old debt from original creditors for literally pennies on the dollar and are going after old, written off credit card debt with a vengeance. The industry is so lucrative that two of these investment companies have made the Fortune 500 list.

The term that has been coined for companies who purchase uncollectible, written-off debt is "scavenger debt collectors" but few of them will admit they are collection agencies. They usually call themselves litigation firms to scare the hell out of you, and they use very aggressive collection techniques that often violate the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Many of them claim that they are not bound by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but they most certainly are.

Scavenger debt collectors buy old debt for just pennies on the dollar and try to collect the whole amount due plus interest. For example, suppose you owed Citibank exactly $1,000. Citibank wrote off the account when they couldn't collect from you, turned it over to a debt collection agency, who also couldn't collect from you. Now, Citibank has sold it to a scavenger debt collection firm for about $70.00. And the scavenger debt collector is going to come after you for the entire $1,000 plus interest. Pretty lucrative, huh?

Of course, the scavenger debt collectors know that most of what they have purchased is uncollectible -- that's why they bought it for just pennies on the dollar. But they are going to use intimidation tactics to collect as much as they can. Please do not let them scare you. Most of what they say is bluffing to get you to send them as much as you can as quickly as you can to avoid being sued.

If you are contacted by a scavenger debt collector, this is what will happen:

First of all, they will let you know that they are a "litigation firm" who is preparing the papers to sue you, but they wanted to contact you and perhaps work out some sort of settlement or pay off agreement. They will lead you to believe that if you don't pay, you will be sued in the next few weeks. But remember, they are probably not a litigation firm and the person on the phone is just a regular debt collector, but he or she will lead you to believe he is an attorney or a paralegal who works for a law firm, when in fact, they are just regular debt collectors. Do not let the "litigation firm" term scare you. Ask the person with whom you are speaking if he/she is an attorney and if the company is an actual law firm. In fact, ask a lot of questions about who it is that now owns your old debt. Chances are you will find that they are a group of investors who aren't really a litigation firm.

Secondly, the scavenger debt collector won't tell you that they purchased the debt for .07 to .10 cents or even as little as .03 cents on the dollar. They will go into a grand epic tale about how their investors purchased this debt and they must get their money back. If you tell them you don't have the money, they will try to determine how much you do have and will start telling you they will accept 80%, then 70%. The collector might tell you he has to consult with the investors and find out if he can offer you a really good deal -- 50%. He calls you back and says he was able to convince them to accept 50% as payment in full provided you can get it to them in the next five days.

The truth is that they will accept as little as 25 percent as a settlement. They will likely not accept anything less than 25 percent because they purchased your debt to make a really nice profit.

If you refuse to pay, they will turn your account over to a real attorney, who will send you a threatening letter in yet another effort to intimidate you into paying. Note that attorneys are forbidden from sending letters claiming they will sue when they won't or can't, so if you receive such a letter from a real attorney, pay attention to what it says to determine if you are really going to be sued. Does the letter say they are exploring their legal options or that papers are being prepared for suit? If it says the latter, you are probably getting sued for real since attorneys can't say it if it isn't true.

In any event, they will not actually sue you unless their asset search reveals you have assets to seize. They aren't going to spend any money suing you if you don't have anything. After all, you can't get blood out of a turnip. And don't think you can hide assets, because with today's computers and vast databases, they can find out what you have in checking accounts, savings accounts, what real estate you own, etc. You really have very little privacy anymore in terms of your finances.

What property can they seize? It depends on what state you live in. Some states, like Texas, are very debtor-friendly and creditors can't do much. But other states, such as Vermont, are creditor-friendly and they can attach your wages, levy your bank account or put a lien on your property. [Click here for state information.]

Scavenger debt collectors are notorious for purchasing really old debt -- debt so old that the statute of limitations has run. If a debt collector contacts you regarding an old debt, do not admit that you owe the debt and do not agree to make any payments. Simply tell them that the "statute of limitations has run on this debt and do not contact me again". If they continue contacting you, send them a certified letter, return receipt requested, telling them not to contact you about the debt again. Remember -- DO NOT ADMIT THAT YOU OWE THE DEBT, DO NOT AGREE TO PAY THE DEBT, AND DO NOT AGREE TO SEND ANY MONEY TO THEM. If you do, then the statute of limitations might start running all over again, giving them the legal right to sue you.

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