When Debt Collectors Go Too Far

The way Denon Perry sees it, when you call his phone you enter his home. And as CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports, last fall he started getting some very unwelcome visitors.

"It almost felt like they were stalking me," says Perry.

Bill collectors were coming after Perry for a 12-year-old debt: $500 Perry repeatedly told them he didn't owe.

In one of the phone calls, Perry was told by a collector, "Why are you lying to me Mr Perry? I don't like to deal with people who lie to me."

In another call, Perry was asked: "You're making every excuse there is out there not to pay .. Go get your checkbook and pay your bills."

A growing number of Americans now complain of being harassed by abusive debt collectors. In fact, between 2000 and 2002 complaints to the FTC almost doubled.

"I shouldn't be afraid of my phone," says Perry. "There is nothing in the world that you can do to justify the abuse that comes over this phone."

Calls like these, made to a man in Minnesota: "Are you listening to your pathetic excuses that you make up and concoct in your little mind there? You just don't like collections because you don't like the fact that you couldn't pay your bill and be a man."

But, what most people don't know is that consumers are protected by a federal law that limits just how far collectors can go.

Any form of harmful, oppressive or abusive phone contact is illegal," says Peter Barry, a debtors rights attorney.

Calling late at night, early in the morning or if requested, at your workplace, is also illegal.

None of which bothered Michael Flannagan who for 13 years was on the other end of the phone as a debt collector.

"As long as you collect the money, the method of doing it was pretty much secondary," says Flannagan.

He says the bottom line is, "persistence breaks resistance."

"If I beat on you long enough, if I beat on you hard enough, if I continue coming after you over and over and over, you will pay," says Flannagan.

The industry says that most debt collectors do follow the rules.

"The number of complaints against debt collectors are negligible, compared to the billions of consumer contacts that occur each year," says Rozanne Andersen, an industry representative.

The numbers aren't negligible to Perry. He had to get a lawyer to make his phone stop ringing.
  • Jaime Holguin

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