• Vincent Maranda

Breaking up is easy... with your collection agent

Shutterstock photo by Everett Collection

Q. My phone rings almost every day. This debt collector is calling and aggressively threatening legal action. He says the repayment plan I presented is unacceptable. How can I stop the phone calls?

A. Whether or not a repayment plan is accepted depends on the mandate your collection agent received from the client you owe money to – like Visa or a retail outlet.

Unfortunately, some collection agents may be unable to negotiate a solution that will resolve the debt. Some creditors on the other hand maintain a reputation of flexibility, they will let agents compromise such as accepting you paying $10 a month. Others will have an automatic pilot plan of going to court unless full payment is made.

Aggression is an important common thread. Collection agencies always proudly reach the finals for the number of consumer complaints. Aggression is even encouraged. Some very large creditors themselves intimidate collection companies by hiring competitors all at the same time, in an effort to motivate collection agencies to compete aggressively against each other.

This does not mean you should endure what are unethical collection practices.

An Act Respecting the Collection of Certain Debts establishes debt collectors’ obligations towards consumers. In sections 2 and 3 you find:

‘No person may, by any means whatever, make false or misleading representations for the collection of a debt... use harassment, threats or intimidation.’

A threat to sue you is not necessarily out of bounds - the law allows that anyone you owe money to can sue if they choose to. At the extreme end of the spectrum of horrific abuses are threats to dig up the dead relatives of those who couldn't pay their funeral bills.

How to stop the phone calls is spelled out in section 3:

No person may, for the collection of a debt, communicate with the debtor when the latter has notified him or her in writing to communicate with his or her legal advisor … or …if the debtor has informed the person in writing that the debt is contested and that the creditor may proceed with legal action;

You can also stop collection calls immediately by filing a consumer proposal or filing for personal bankruptcy – after which time it is illegal for a creditor to demand money from you. A consumer proposal is an offer you make to your creditors to settle your debts. By law only a trustee can prepare and submit a proposal for your creditors.

If you don’t exercise any one of these legal options the next time they call, there are things you can do.

Debt collector phone calls can catch you completely off guard. You can always ask them to call back at a time that’s better for you. There is no legal obligation to talk to them.

You have the right to ask for the permit number issued by the Office de la protection du consommateur. You can check the validity online.

To lower the odds of aggressive exchanges you can mention that you’re recording the call for the protection of all parties and to ensure industry best practices.

Be aware that a legitimate debt will not magically go away simply because the collection calls stop. If you don’t pay a debt, your creditor could still sue you for the amount you owe.

If you feel the rules have been breached you can lodge a complaint. The carrying out of this law is under the supervision of the Office de la protection du consommateur. If your collection agent fails to fulfill an obligation imposed on him or her, you can break up with him or her and claim damages.

Please send your legal questions to editor@yourlocaljournal.ca

Website of law firm: vmaranda.com

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