Halloweens come and go, but "zombie" debt collectors try all year round to coerce consumers into paying "phantom" debts that they do not owe. Using official-sounding communications that provide claim and affidavit numbers, they simply scare some people into paying the alleged debt just so that they will be left alone.
The Federal Trade Commission has netted as many as 3,000 complaints about companies engaging in these tactics and is in the process of suing them.
In the meantime, consumers should know that the Fair Debt Collection Protection Act prohibits collectors from making contact at any time of day, using repeated phone calls to antagonize consumers or third parties, harassing people on their jobs, using inappropriate language, or threatening bodily harm. Additionally, they cannot submit fraudulent statements, such as by misrepresenting themselves as lawyers, government representatives, or representatives of a credit reporting firm; claiming that a crime has been committed; or lying about the amount of money owed.
Debt collectors may not threaten to sue consumers, have them arrested, or garnish their property or wages unless they have the legal right to do so. Finally, it is unlawful for them to give false credit information about consumers; send documents that appear to be from a court or government agency if it, in fact, is not; or use a fake company name.