A debt-collection agency claimed that Allen Jones owed a meager $200 on a credit card bill, and they intended to collect it by any means necessary. Instead, it may end up costing them more than $1.5 million.
Over the course of a few months, Advanced Call Center Technologies of Dallas called Jones several times and left harassing and racist messages:
"This is your mother******* wake-up call you little lazy a** b****," WFAA reported a collector as saying in one message.
"Get your mother******* n****r ass up and go pick some mother******* cotton fields," said another collector.
The calls came at all times of the morning and night and allegedly included a sexual comment about Jones' wife. The worst part of the abuse is that Jones, who is African American, said he had paid the bill already.
"This shouldn't be tolerated. Nobody should have to experience what I had to experience," Jones said.
The messages made all the difference, said Mark Frenkel, one of Jones' attorneys. "If we did not have tapes, no one would ever believe that this happened."
A Dallas County jury awarded Jones $50,000 for mental anguish and $1.5 million in punitive damages, and he deserves every penny. Maybe the verdict will send a message to the abusive collection agencies out there that take advantage of people by threatening them or calling them so often that it amounts to psychological warfare.
Some debt collectors also lie about the ramifications of not paying a debt. In one such case, a woman committed suicide after being told that authorities had been contacted about the debt she owed. In another instance, a New Mexico man sued Verizon Wireless after a debt-collection agency threatened to blow up his house over a $308 bill. (Listen to the call below.)
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids some of these dirty practices, but some debt agencies still call family, friends and individuals' places of employment about their debts.
Unfortunately, some of these bottom-feeding agencies also tack on extra fees to the debts that may be owed. They also have a habit of harassing people for debts that have already been paid or can no longer legally be collected. According to the AP, the Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry.
More legal protections need to be put in place to shield consumers from these greedy agencies. The way in which these agencies constantly sell the debt to other agencies should be limited, because it forces consumers to go through the process of disputing incorrect debts time and again.
Consumers also should understand their rights when it comes to debt collection. For example, you can stop the harassing calls by sending the agency a certified letter stating that you no longer wish to be contacted about the debt in question. You also have the right to dispute the debt and ask for proof that you actually owe the debt. Finally, consumers have the right to negotiate a settlement.
When it comes to debt collectors, and your finances in general, knowledge is truly power.
"This is absolutely, without a doubt, the most egregious collection case I've ever seen," said Jones' other attorney, Dean Malone. "We made a statement, and the statement is we will not tolerate abusive debt collectors."