John Heenan was interviewed by the Billings Gazette regarding a debt collector’s contacts with the newspaper reporter, improperly asking her to “deliver a message” to her neighbor about a debt. The full text of the story is below.
Scams du jour
This bill-collection practice is illegal, but that didn’t stop Chrysler Financial from cold-calling me on a rare June afternoon when I was home on a workday after working an early shift.
Like most telemarketers, she asked for me by name, “Is Jan Falstad there?”
Always suspicious of telemarketing calls, I asked who was calling. She gave me a name and said she was trying to “get a message” to one of my neighbors.
Incredulously, I realized that this Chrysler caller was trying to use me to help them collect a debt. When I asked her if that was her motive, she denied it and said, “We’re just trying to get him to call us back.”
I told the caller I had no business relationship with Chrysler, that I was on the federal “Do Not Call” list and that meant her call was breaking federal law.
Finally, my anger rising, I said that I had no intention of helping Chrysler collect a debt and hung up.
Calling friends and neighbors to try to embarrass someone into paying a debt is a common, but illegal, practice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, according to Billings attorney John Heenan.
Under this federal law, creditors can contact third parties only to verify the debtor’s contact information, like address and telephone number. Usually they already have that information, Heenan said.
“At that point it becomes per se harassment or deception,” he said. “They’re contacting you to embarrass him and to co-opt you into the debt-collection process, which invades your own right to privacy.”
But Amber Gowen, spokeswoman for Chrysler Financial at headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich., said her company sometimes has to ask for help to try to reach a debtor.
“It is our policy that when we do talk to a third-party, we are extremely careful not to violate anyone’s privacy or divulge information that we are precluded by law from sharing with others,” she said. “This action is legal and permissible and a common practice in the industry.”