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Oregon Debt Collection Woes and Rogues

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From the Washington County (Oregon) Law Librarian:

The flurry of debt collector news stories this past week leads me to post a few of the places to start your research if you have unpaid bills and debt collectors contacting you – and if you want to speak out to your state legislators (just in time for the beginning of the 2009 Oregon Legislative Session).

The (mostly local) stories I refer to (and surely not a comprehensive list in this economic climate) include:

1) Oregonian article: “Oregon works to rein in rogue debt collectors,” by Laura Gunderson, The Oregonian, Sunday November 23, 2008, 9:00 AM (also here, Oregon works to rein in rogue debt collectors)

2) Oregonian editorial: “Rein in rogue debt collectors: Lawmakers must side with consumers against shoddy, illegal practices of collection agencies,” Sunday, November 30, 2008

Excerpt: “Oregon consumers need more protection from sloppy or unscrupulous bill collectors, and the next Legislature should see that it gets done.

State justice officials know there’s a problem. In the 2005 and 2007 legislative sessions, the attorney general’s office asked for stronger rules governing debt collectors, but both times lawmakers caved to lobbyists representing collection agencies and business groups.

The 2009 Legislature needs to come to grips with this. As The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson reported last week, the past two years have brought a sharp spike in complaints to the attorney general’s office about third-party collection agencies….”

3) Willamette Week: Rogue of the Week, 11/26/08:

Excerpt: “Families of troops in Iraq have enough fear and stress this holiday season without debt collectors adding illegal scare tactics. For allegedly harassing a soldier’s family over unpaid bills, we’re giving a dishonorable discharge to Associated Creditors Exchange, this week’s Rogue.

A federal lawsuit filed Oct. 29 in Eugene claims the collection agency repeatedly called the Springfield home of the mother and stepfather of Brian Gunderson, a 31-year-old U.S. Army sergeant now deployed in Iraq….

4) NPR, Morning Edition, Tax Collection / Debt Collection Woes and Rogues (12/2/08) (in a transcript/story titled, New President Faces Powerful Federal Contractors, by Daniel Zwerdling):

Excerpt: “…What mission is more important than collecting income taxes? A few years ago, officials at the Internal Revenue Service hired commercial collection companies to help them. Today, if the IRS thinks you owe it money, you might get barraged with calls from the same kinds of companies that pursue you when you’re late on a car loan or a doctor’s bill.

So, officials at the IRS turned to industry, telling collection companies that they could keep up to 25 percent of what they collected from the taxpayers they tracked down. That means the IRS doesn’t pay the companies out of its budget. But it also means the collection firms have a financial incentive to hound people.

When you talk to IRS agents, they are required to tell you immediately where they work and why they want to speak with you. But recordings of calls from collection companies — which the House Ways and Means Committee obtained last year, during an investigation of IRS contracts — show that the firms’ employees left at least one taxpayer worried and confused. The collection workers refused to give their full names or describe why they kept calling him, yet they kept pressing him for his Social Security number — despite widespread warnings from government officials that consumers should never disclose private information to anonymous callers.

Curiously, 85 percent of the people the companies called didn’t even owe back taxes, according to a federal report. But the IRS still uses those firms, even though calls like the ones played at the hearing made some officials cringe….” (full transcript) (related story)

Where to turn for INFORMATION and HELP:

1) Find or Write your Oregon State Legislator.

2) Federal Trade Commission (FTC): (see Quick Finder or click on Consumer Protection tab)

3) Oregon Attorney General (but see also above Oregonian article and editorial about recommended legislative actions to protect consumers)

4) Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO) (click on the Consumer icon)

5) Oregon State Bar (OSB)

6) Libraries and Bookstores: numerous books on legal self-help and debt management are available at your local libraries and bookstores (more Oregon bookstore lists here and here).

7) Your public law library has lots of research resources too!

Now about that Zombie Debt ….

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2 responses to “Oregon Debt Collection Woes and Rogues”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why is there this sympathy for all deadbeats? You know, some debts deserve to be paid. Why is there an assumption that collectors are bad?

  2. I don’t think there is a lot of sympathy for people who spend more than they can afford, but there is a lot of sympathy for people who have paid their debts but are treated as if they have not by debt collectors who do not know the law.

    Many, most, debt collectors do know the law and aren’t interested in wasting their time by chasing after people who aren’t indebted to the debtor’s clients.

    Laura

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