Consumer Affairs offers ways to avoid holiday debt collection scams

scam alertLearn what debt collection agencies can and can’t do

By Kevin Walters

It’s a fact: Americans love to spend money during the holidays, even risking substantial financial debt to do so. This year, consumers are projected to spend significantly more money than previous years. According to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) are expected to increase 3.7 percent to $630.7 billion—significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. Online sales are forecast to increase between 6 and 8 percent to as much as $105 billion.

If you accumulate holiday debt this year, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Consumer Affairs Division encourages consumers to be wary of unscrupulous and illegal practices of debt collection agencies. Consult the One-Stop Licensing App to ensure the debt collections agency is licensed with the State of Tennessee. File a complaint if a debt collector commits any of these violations:

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not: use threats of violence or harm, publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies), use obscene or profane language, repeatedly use phone communication to annoy you, contact you at inconvenient or unusual time periods (Between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. is considered acceptable), contact you at work if the collector knows, or has reason to know, the employer prohibits such communication or contact you after you provided a notice in writing that you wish the communication to cease.

False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt.

Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt. They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so. Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.

Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or state law – allows the charge, deposit a post-dated check early or take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally.

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