Illegal Voicemails by Collectors
Debt collectors are required to know the law. Debt collectors, debt buyers, and collection law firms spend lots of time and money going to seminars and workshops on how to avoid lawsuits. The best way, of course, is to follow the law and not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). However, debt collectors have found they can collect far more money using tactics that are illegal especially when it comes to leaving voicemails.
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First Type of Illegal Voicemails - Threats or Lies
We don’t see these as often as the other violations but they still are very common. Debt collectors will say they are with the police or the district attorney’s office. Creditors Interchange, a well-known debt collector from Buffalo, had a collector who lied by claiming he was the senior prosecutor for the state of Alabama. Other companies have left voicemails threatening lawsuits that are supposedly filed but actually were not – instead, these were blatant lies. Other abusive collection agencies or collection law firms have threatened people with deportation or physical harm. Any type of illegal threat or lie falls into this first category.
Second Type of Illegal Voicemails - Third Party Disclosures
Abusive debt buyer, collection agencies, and law firms often leave voicemail messages knowing there is a chance that people other than the debtor/consumer will hear the messages. Most answering machines play over a speakerphone so if the debt collector says “Mr. Consumer you need to call us back about this debt you owe right now” and a neighbor or family member (other than spouse) hears this, then a third party disclosure has occurred. This is illegal. So if the debt collector says “This is a debt collector and this is an attempt to collect a debt” and someone else besides your spouse hears this – the law has been violated. Often times children or room-mates share a telephone line and voicemail (whether an answering machine or AT&T voicemail, etc) and so this is a serious and very common violation we see abusive debt collectors committing.
Third Type of Illegal Voicemails - Failure to Leave Mini-Miranda
Debt collectors know when they leave voicemails they must leave the so-called “Mini-Miranda” which is basically where they say “This is a message from a debt collector in an attempt to collect a debt”. It prevents these abusive people from lying like they used to about the purpose of their call – it makes it clear to you that the call is a debt collection call. However, many debt collectors refuse to follow the law and make the mini-Miranda disclosure. The reasons are many – but here is a couple. First, it helps with collection efforts because it creates uncertainty in the mind of the consumer as to the purpose of the call. Do you call back or not? Second, it helps to avoid making third-party disclosures which we discussed above. But the problem with this second reason is it is no excuse to violate one part of the law because you don’t want to violate another part of the law. Amazingly, harassing debt collectors believe they have a constitutional right to leave voicemail messages. They don’t.