Missed bill payments are on the rise across Canada and so are complaints against abusive debt collectors. Paid on commission, bill collectors have the right to be persistent. But some can cross the line -- using illegal scare tactics to drum up payments.
If you're currently behind on your bills and are being hounded by a collection agency bully, know that you're not without protection. Each Canadian province and territory has a legal code of conduct that collection agencies must follow when dealing with debtors. Thanks to Sections 20 to 25 under Regulation 74 of Ontario's Collection Agencies Act, you have the ammunition to manage even the meanest bill collectors.
tactic #1: Nasty surprises
Weekly production quotas motivate collectors to immediately call once cases are assigned. Pushy agents will sometimes pretend to be somebody else just to get you on the phone.
Your legal ammunition: Subsections 21(1) and 21(4)
At least five days before first calling, agencies must mail notice identifying the creditor, amount owed, agency name and authority to demand payment. If you didn't receive that notice, collectors must wait five days after another is mailed.
Tip: You can hang up on strangers who refuse to properly identify themselves.
Bully tactic #2: Abuse
Hostile collectors think that threats and insults like "Pay your bill, you loser - or else!" will compel you to pay faster.
Your legal ammunition: Subsections 22(6) 3-6
It's illegal for collectors to use coercive, intimidating, profane or threatening language.
Tip: Tape record abusive collection calls.
tactic #3: Lawsuit threats
"Pay the full amount within 24 hours or we'll sue!" screams the collection agency bully.
Your legal ammunition: Subsections 23(1) and (2)
Agencies must notify you before recommending that creditors sue. Otherwise, collectors can only mention a lawsuit after the creditor starts the legal action.
Tip: When a collector refuses a reasonable payment plan, send your proposal by registered mail.
tactic #4: Phone blitzes
One Toronto victim received eight calls daily for three months over a disputed $100 bill.
Your legal ammunition: Subsection 22(6) 1-2
In Ontario, collectors can't call:
- more than three times every seven days,
- on a statutory holiday,
- after 9 p.m. and before 7 a.m. Monday to Saturday, or
- before 1 p.m. and after 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Tip: Ask the collector to spell his first and last name. Then record it in a diary to track the calls.
tactic #5: Burden of proof
An enraged collector shouts at an identity theft victim that she's responsible for proving a credit card debt isn't hers.
Your legal ammunition: Subsection 22(5)
Agencies must first take reasonable precautions to confirm who actually owes money.
Tip: Fire up your computer. Calls must end after you send a registered letter to the agency disputing the debt and recommending court action.
tactic #6: Involving family and friends
Barbaric collectors intimidate or use family members or friends as pressure tactics to force you to pay right away.
Your legal ammunition: Subsection 22(3)
It's an offense to discuss debts with persons not legally responsible for money owed. Agencies can only contact third parties to confirm your home address and telephone number.
Tip: Register complaints with the Better Business Bureau and your provincial Ministry of Consumer Services.
tactic #7: Approaching your employer
Agency bullies may threaten to make trouble for you at work.
Your legal ammunition: Subsection 22(4)
Collectors can only contact your employer once to confirm employment information. Otherwise, employer contact is restricted to court orders, wage assignments or debt guarantees.
Tip: A cease-and-desist letter forces agencies to communicate through your lawyer.
Bully tactic #8: Extra charges
Some collection enforcers demand additional payments for their expenses.
Your legal ammunition: Section 25
It's illegal for collectors to add charges, unless the creditor for the account previously agrees.
Tip: Ask for a copy of the creditor's authorizing agreement.