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Tess Vigeland: I’ll tell you who could use a little empathy training:
Debt collectors. This week the Federal Trade Commission issued a report calling for major changes in the debt collection industry, especially the way it uses the court system to squeeze people for payment. The report called on states to make it easier for consumers to defend themselves. And it said consumers should be given a clear choice between agreeing to arbitration or going to court. Robert Andrews analyzes the debt industry for IBIS World and he says it’s no surprise that the issue is front and center in the middle of a recession.
Robert Andrews: Debt collectors have had to become a little bit more aggressive to collect payment on delinquent debt. Just due to the fact that unemployment has increased, consumers are struggling just to make payments.
The F.T.C. has also found that debt collectors are getting more aggressive, leading to an increase in consumer complaints of harassment.
Andrews: Contacting individuals before 8 o’ clock a.m. or after 9 o’ clock at night. Communicating with consumers at their workplace. Reporting false information on a consumers credit report. Debt collectors have used profanity, even threats of bodily harm.
Consumers do have some protections already. They can sue debt collectors if they can prove harassment.
Andrews: Additionally due to some recent cases associated with large civil penalties, I also see that as a deterrent for future aggressive tactics. And on top of that the F.T.C. is reviewing its current policies and actually looking to make some changes to increase punishment.
So in the end, debt collectors could end up owing someone money and ultimately find themselves in need of a little, empathy?