With Fed shutdowns and benefits in limbo, many veterans may have run-ins with a collection agency or two. Don’t be embarrassed. Here’s how to get your facts straight and avoid digging a deeper hole for yourself. There are a lot of websites out there on the subject, giving lists of this or that. Here is what I have done for family members and myself when we came up against these folks.
First, always ask for proof that you owe whatever it is they say you owe. Over the past 20 years, banks lost a lot of documents as a result of credit backed securities and buyouts. Meaning, it is really difficult to tell who owes what to whom for what services or products. Always, always, always, ask for copies of the documents they are claiming are the basis of their proof that you owe money. Many times, the data might be entered into computers, but the original document will be lost. Unless there is a contract with your signature on it, you may owe nothing. Make them prove it before you pay one penny.
Second, agents will often try to trap you with what you’re saying when you’re nervous. My uncle had me sit in on a call between him and the agent. Since we have the same last name, no big deal. The issue with him was the fact that the collection agency never mailed a bill or a copy of any contract. Rather than mail the contract, the agent kept circling around to the question, “are you refusing to pay?” I interrupted the conversation every time. “No, he is saying he will not pay until you send a bill and provide the contract you claim to have.” This made her mad, and she eventually terminated the call without answering.
Third, if you have an iPhone, smartphone or speakerphone, have a friend or family member join you on a three-way call with the collection agency. Introduce the person to the agent. This will keep them honest. Plus, it will add a second pair of ears on your side to any silver tongue techniques used by the agent on the other line.
Fourth, have no mercy for these banksters. They don’t care about you or your issues. Don’t help them make their case. Many times, the same companies that sold their debt to the collection agency entrapped you through some consumer scam or enticement. Don’t feel guilty for making the collection agent earn their pay. It’s your job to advocate for you, especially in these lean times.
Fifth, avoid talking to these people on the phone beyond the first or second call. They will try to twist your words, and if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen. Only correspond via mail. Send the mail via certified mail with return receipt and a second copy via regular mail. This will allow you a day or two to think through any response to any claim. Again, agents are trained to twist your words and push you into paying them money. Their bonuses are dependent on this kind of outcome. With most situations, agencies have 5 days to mail you a bill to support their claim that you owe. You have 30 days from receipt of the bill to contest it. This must be done in writing as stipulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Google the Act to read about what these agents are supposed to do.
Last, and most important, go to Office Depot or similar and buy some cheap but useful supplies. Get a 'Classification Folder' with 1 divider. These are the same folders used by the VA and law firms for organizing veteran/client files. Get a two-hole punch and some 3M sticky tabs for notes. Every time you have correspondence by phone, write a summary of the conversation and mail it back to the company. Again, use certified mail with return receipt and send a second copy via regular mail. Print out one hardcopy, and copies of all other related mail, and place it in the folder. Keep a log of all communication. This will serve as your lifeline, especially if you are being accused of debt that is not actually yours, or it might be yours but you’re not sure.
It’s always good to pay your debts so long as they are yours. But if you have any doubt, fight these guys tooth and nail because they will give you no mercy. They make money if you pay, and it doesn’t matter to them if you actually owe the funds. They get a certain percentage on the dollar of all money recovered. His or her ideal outcome is for someone to pay something, whether legitimate or not. And that is why collection agencies suck.