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Collection agency hounds debt-free B.C. residents

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Here is an incredibly (and stress-inducing) common problem with a fairly simple solution.

Nearly 900 complaints have been filed with the B.C. Consumer Protection Branch over the last five years against a U.S.-based debt collection company, CBC News has learned.

The complaints against iQor Inc. claim the company hounded people with incessant, intimidating and often unwarranted calls.

“It’s very stressful,” said Christina Wensley, of Maple Ridge, who said she tried to ignore a seemingly endless string of calls from iQor.

Wensley said the calls were always a recorded message, leaving a phone number and saying, “It's really important you call us back.”

Wensley said knew she didn't owe anyone money, but the constant intrusions on her family life, with nearly daily calls for month, took a toll.

“When your phone rings and you know it’s them, it’s just a sinking feeling,” Wensley said.

The Consumers Association of Canada says iQor is playing dirty.

[it’s] blatantly offensive for the iQor people to behave in that manner. It's also illegal to call anyone about a debt that isn't directly theirs,” said association president Bruce Cran.

In a statement to CBC, iQor said it’s working to fix the problem.

"iQor takes seriously any call placed to a wrong number and regrets the inconvenience caused to any consumer,” the statement said, adding that the company “has developed statistical models to identify likely wrong numbers."

Mistakes are common

Credit counsellors say that because thousands of British Columbians share a surname, mistakes are common.

“We see a ‘P. Singh’ in the phone book and [debt collectors] automatically assume that must be the individual,” said Scott Hannah, of the Credit Counselling Society of B.C.

“While time is taken to verify who the individual is, at times they’ve got the wrong person."

Hannah said that anyone who is hounded for a debt that isn’t theirs should call the collection agents back right away and tell them.

“Tell them, ‘You've got the wrong party. Do not contact me again.’ It forces that collection agency to say, ‘Well, maybe we do have the wrong person,’” said Hannah.

Wensley eventually did approach the agency with that message and the calls have stopped.

Experts say that legally, it’s up to the collection agency to prove someone owes money, not the other way around. If they don't have proof, they're supposed to stop calling.

If a collection agency is licensed to do business in BC (and they must be) Consumer Protection BC will have a license record in a searchable database at http://www.consumerp...task=active_bus.

If the collection agency is not licensed file a complaint with BCPC.

Also if it is not your debt contact the collection agency IN WRITING (a contact address will be in the database) not by telephone and put them on written notice it is not your debt and if they continue to contact you, a complaint will be filed with CPBC. Per CPBC:

Debt Collectors Are Not Allowed To:

- communicate with or try to collect money from you if you have notified both the collection agency and creditor that you dispute the debt

- communicate with or try to collect money from you if you have notified the collection agency that you are being contacted about a debt owed by somebody else.

Here is a form to use:

http://www.consumerp...r_form 2011.pdf

BTW if the creditor itself (and not a collection agency) is pursuing a debt, they do not have to be licensed but must follow the law on debt collection.

Basic info every consumer should know...

People should understand that debt collection agencies operating in BC have rules and they must follow them. If they do not they can be fined or have their license pulled. Also you can sue them for harassment in Small Claims Court.

For example if you direct a collection agency to no longer contact you by telephone and only communicate in writing, they must do that.

It is astonishing how few people know their legal rights in respect of consumer debt and as result collection agencies break the law with impunity. These are the sort of things along with your rights as an employee under the Employment Standards Act that should be taught in school.

Collection agency actions are governed by law and they regularly break the law because people simply do not know their rights. Just because you have incurred a lawful debt does not mean the creditor of his agent (the collection agency) can harass you. Division 1 of Part 7, sections 113 through 124, of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act (BPCPA) deals with prohibited collection practices.

http://www.bclaws.ca...eeside/04002_09

Here is some information from The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority (aka Consumer Protection BC) on prohibited practises by collection agencies:

http://www.consumerp...esponsibilities

http://www.consumerp...n-webinar-notes

The thing to do is put them on written notice and direct that they are not to contact you by telephone and may only deal with you in writing. A collector is prohibited from continuing to verbally contact a debtor if the debtor has requested that the creditor contact the debtor in writing only. When putting them on notice make sure that you have proof of delivery that the direction was delivered as collection agencies have been known to lie and claim it was not received. It is the best idea to send it by double registered mail or by fax keeping the fax receipt.

Consumer Protection BC has a specific form for you to use to direct the collection agency contact you only in writing. Using this form puts the collection agency on notice that you know your legal rights and that usually stops them from breaking the law knowing they can be fined or have their license pulled. Here is the form you can use:

http://www.consumerp...riting_only.pdf

A collection agency cannot harass family friends or your employer or threaten to tell anyone about your debt. That is illegal. There have been a number of cases where debtors have sued in Small Claims Court for harassment and have even been awarded maximum damages (currently $25,000) for the illegal conduct by a collection agency.

If they have already been guilty of harassment (see below for details of what constitutes harassment) or if they do not heed your direction to deal with you only in writing then you can also file a complaint with Consumer Protection BC. Here is information how to make the complaint and the form you can use:

http://www.consumerp...ebt-collection:

http://www.consumerp...t form 2010.pdf

Here is the information about your rights from the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association from their Dial-A-Law site:

CBA.ORG / BC

Harassment by Debt Collectors

Script 252 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.

If you're in debt and have fallen behind in your payments, you may have received phone calls or letters demanding payment. If you're far enough behind, you may even be threatened with court action, or the seizure of your car or furnishings. If so, you'll want to know what your rights are.

There are laws to protect debtors

Without debt collection laws, there is the potential for abuses, including midnight phone calls demanding payment, complaints to a debtor's employer about the debt, and threats of terrible consequences. Laws protect debtors from unreasonable collection practices.

How does the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Act protect debtors?

In British Columbia, the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act ensures the collection of debts is done in a reasonable manner. The Act has two important aims:

* to license debt collection businesses and collection agents

* to regulate the conduct of creditors and debt collection businesses

The Act recognizes that creditors have a right to collect monies owing to them and outlines how and when a collector may contact a debtor, but at the same time, it recognizes that debtors should be protected from harassment.

How do debt collectors operate?

A debt collector is someone who carries on the business of collecting debts for others for a fee. If you bought a suit from a local store and haven't made the payments, the store owner may eventually give up on you and hire a debt collection business to recover the money from you. Normally the debt collection business charges the creditor (in this example, the store owner) a fee in proportion to the amount they actually recover from you. If the debt collector recovers nothing, they get no fee, so they have the reputation of being more aggressive in their collection tactics than creditors who are doing their own collecting.

Harassment is forbidden

The general rule is that anyone collecting a debt – either a creditor or a debt collection business – cannot

communicate or attempt to communicate with a debtor or their family, acquaintances or employer in such a way that the communication constitutes harassment. Harassment is defined in the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act to include:

* using threatening or intimidating language

* exerting excessive or unreasonable pressure

* publishing or threatening to publish the debtor's failure to pay what they owe the creditor

Creditors and debt collectors cannot intimidate you

A debt collector is not allowed to contact you, your family, or your employer in such a way that it may cause alarm, distress or humiliation. For example, they cannot phone your home every ten minutes all day long demanding payment, if that tactic distresses your family members. Similarly, they aren't allowed to stand on your front lawn with a megaphone, demanding payment, for all your neighbours to hear. Those are extreme examples, but many more subtle techniques are forbidden as well.

Can your employer be contacted?

Creditors and debt collectors must be careful when contacting your boss. They can only contact your employer to confirm your employment. Sothey can't harass your boss, or prejudice your reputation by suggesting that you ought to be fired because of your debts. But a creditor or debt collector can make one attempt to collect a debt from you while you're at your place of work, if they can't reach you at home or if you won't respond.

Creditors and debt collectors aren't allowed to mislead you

They can't use forms or documents where the appearance or language would cause you to think that they come from a court or government office. For example, they can't mail you a letter demanding payment, produced in the form of a "Court Summons," because you might be misled into thinking that it was an official court document.

Only the appropriate amount can be collected from the right person

Debt collectors cannot collect or try to collect money from someone who doesn't owe the money, or attempt to collect more money than is owed to the creditor. Keep in mind that interest can continue to accumulate on an outstanding debt.

What if you believe that you're a victim of harassment or unreasonable collection practices?

If you think you're a victim, you have three options to consider:

* complain

* accept only written communications

* ask to be sued

Your first choice is to complain

Start by asking to speak with the supervisor at the debt collection agency. If that gets you nowhere, you can complain to the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Authority. The Authority can provide you with information on how to address the complaint directly with the debt collector. If the unreasonable collection behaviour continues, the Authority may investigate and can take steps against the debt collector or creditor. To make a complaint, call the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Authority 1.888.564.9963 (toll-free).

Your second choice is to only accept written communications

If the nature or frequency of the collection telephone calls is upsetting you and the calls won't stop, you can request that all future communication be in writing only. It's an offence if a debt collector doesn't follow your request. You should put your request in writing and keep a copy for your records.

Your third choice is to ask the creditor to sue you

If you disagree with the debt, you can notify the creditor and debt collector that you dispute the debt and want the creditor to take the matter to court. Upon written notification, all other types of collection must stop. You should keep a copy of your communication for your records. Note that a debt may still show on your credit report while it is being disputed.

Remember, if you're in debt, you have a legal obligation to repay the money

But the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Act regulates the practices that debt collectors may use in recovering their money.

Where can you get help or find more information?

* See the consumer information section published by the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Authority on their website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca, or call 1.888.564.9963 (toll-free).

* If you are in financial difficulty or have trouble paying your bills, refer to script 253 on "When You Can't Pay Your Debts."

* See the brochure on "Consumer Law and Credit/Debt Law," published by the Legal Services Society of BC and available on their website at www.lss.bc.ca. To find it, click on "Our Publications," then search under the subject of "Consumer and Debt."

[updated February 2010]

Dial-A-Law© is a library of legal information that is available:

* by phone, as recorded scripts, and

* by audio and text, on the CBA BC Branch website.

To access Dial-A-Law, call 604.687.4680 in the lower mainland or 1.800.565.5297 elsewhere in BC. Dial-A-Law is available online at www.cba.org/bc in Public & Media.

The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Dial-A-Law is funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia and sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.

http://www.cba.org/b...credit/252.aspx

Here is more detailed information from the Legal Services Society of BC - see Chapter 25:

Section 114 prohibits communication or attempted communication with a debtor; a member of the debtor's family or household; a relative, neighbour, friend, or acquaintance of the debtor; or the debtor's employer in a manner or with a frequency that constitutes harassment. Situations that constitute harassment include:

• using threatening, profane, intimidating, or coercive language;

• exerting undue, excessive, or unreasonable pressure; and

• publishing or threatening to publish a debtor's failure to pay.

The BPCPA restricts the manner, place, and time that a collector may communicate with a debtor in attempting to collect a debt. A collector, other than a creditor attempting to collect its own debt, must give the debtor written notice of the name of the creditor, the amount of the debt, and the identity and authority of the collector at least five days before initiating verbal contact with the debtor.

A collector may only verbally contact a debtor at work once, and only in limited circumstances. A collector may only contact a debtor's employer for the purpose of confirming a debtor's employment or with the authorization of the debtor.

A collector is prohibited from continuing to verbally contact a debtor if the debtor has requested that the creditor contact the debtor in writing only.

A collector may not continue to communicate directly with the debtor if the debtor has directed that all communication be with the debtor's lawyer, or if the debtor has notified the collector and the creditor that he or she disputes the debt and wants the matter taken to court.

A collector must not communicate by phone or in person with the debtor, a relative, or a friend on a statutory holiday, on a Sunday except between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., or any other day except between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Section 120 expressly prohibits a collector from collecting more than the debtor owes or from someone who is not liable for the debt.

In addition to these rules specifically for debt collectors, section 124 says that collectors cannot use practices that are prescribed in any part of the BPCPA or its regulations.

The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, also known as Consumer Protection BC, publishes some guidelines for collection practices in the "Debt Collection" section of their website at www.bpcpa.ca.

Here are some of the guidelines:

• A collector should not mail a letter to a debtor's place of employment in an envelope that indicates the name of the collection agency and that is not clearly marked "personal and confidential."

• A collector should not use fax, voicemail, or e-mail in a manner that is calculated to embarrass, humiliate, or alarm a debtor.

• Profanity or other verbal abuse to locate a debtor or to collect a debt is strictly prohibited.

Section 171 of the BPCPA allows a person who has suffered damage to bring an action against a collector who has contravened the act or regulations. Actions under s. 171 can be brought to Small Claims Court. In Total Credit Recovery v. Roach, a debtor was awarded $2,000 compensation for harassing communications by a collection agency. Also of note is a case decided under earlier legislation, Toban v. Total Credit Recovery, in whicha total of $10,000 in damages was awarded to the claimant for serious harassment, which included abusive calls to his landlord, employer, and family members from whom the collector demanded immediate payment.

In extreme situations, the Criminal Code may apply. Specific threats to harm a debtor, as well as repeated visits to a debtor's residence are prohibited under the Criminal Code.

...

Stop the harassment

The immediate concern will probably be putting a stop to the harassment.

Even where a debtor is clearly liable on a debt, the law does not allow any creditor to pressure a debtor unreasonably.

It may be difficult for the debtor to act on his or her own if the debtor has been harassed. Intervention by an advocate or lawyer may be more effective. Consider hand delivering or sending a registered letter to the creditor outlining the debtor's circumstances, along with a proposal for resolving the claim. Make it clear if the claim is being denied (in whole or in part), and make it clear, in any event, that the debtor does not want further direct contact. Consider advising the collection agent that if there is further direct contact, the debtor will consider taking legal action.

As an alternative, the debtor might contact Consumer Protection BC for help, letting the creditor know that such a complaint has been made. This contact is usually enough to stop the pressure. It may also be in the public interest to make such a complaint, as the authority may revoke the licence of a collection agent against whom there are a number of complaints.

http://www.lss.bc.ca...ditDebitLaw.pdf

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Interesting.

My sister is currently trying to fight a ticket that was issued to her for not paying a transit fine (which was almost certainly incurred by our junkie cousin who happens to know her name and address) but doesn't exactly have the time and money to go fight it or to pay it and as such is getting calls from collections.

I will have to talk to her about that tonight and then read this again.

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Interesting.

My sister is currently trying to fight a ticket that was issued to her for not paying a transit fine (which was almost certainly incurred by our junkie cousin who happens to know her name and address) but doesn't exactly have the time and money to go fight it or to pay it and as such is getting calls from collections.

I will have to talk to her about that tonight and then read this again.

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thanks for info, some very good things i didnt know about.

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thanks for info, some very good things i didnt know about.

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And a follow-up article from CBC on your rights vis a vis collection agencies.

Bill collectors in Canada often use aggressive tactics to chase consumers, sometimes even managing to reel in payments when no credit was owed in the first place.

Some practices — such as daily phone calls, threatening language, accosting friends and relatives, or contacting debtors during late-night or early-morning hours — amount to illegal behaviour, depending on the province or territory.

A CBC News investigation found that employees at
. The company was fined in two provinces for violations and was the subject of hundreds of complaints over several years, with one former worker saying that consumers have been pressured in the past to make payments just to stop being badgered.

But Bruce Cran, the B.C.-based president of the independent Consumers' Association of Canada, said it's not always best practice to hang up on credit agents or simply ignore them. One smart way for people to protect themselves against harassment is to know their rights.

"The time's come when people are looking for clarification because they're getting annoyed,” he said. "Some of these debts we're talking about are so small, like $38 from eight years ago — it's ridiculous."

Here are a few questions you should know the answers to (the rules in Canada vary, so links to specific provincial laws are provided at the bottom of this story):

When can credit agencies contact you?

Getting unexpected visits or phone calls from a debt collector can be stressful enough. Many provinces try to protect Canadians from being solicited at inconvenient times.

Cran said one person in London, Ont., complained to the Consumers' Association of Canada when she was jolted awake at 3 a.m. by knocking and shouting outside her home.

"This woman had this debt collector banging with his fists on the door, calling out details of the particular debt that she had, and insisting that she pay it," Cran said. "And when he left, there was a large piece of paper with the details of the debt tacked to her door."

The rules in most provinces state that credit agencies are prohibited from contacting consumers between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Those hours are a little more flexible in Alberta, which allow firms to contact people from 7 a.m. up until 10 p.m., as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador, which allows contact from 8 a.m. up until 10 p.m.

Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. law won’t allow collection agents to call a suspected debtor before 8 a.m., and Manitoba restricts calls or visits before 7 a.m.

Sundays are also partially prohibited days in most provinces, as are statutory holidays.

How often can collection firms contact you?

Cran said it's not uncommon for some Canadian collection firms to get their agents to phone or visit debtors daily, including on Sundays.

Yukon Territory legislation mentions that agents must not make calls with such frequency that it could be considered harassment.

But in Ontario, debt collectors can't email, leave voice mail or speak in person with the consumer more than three times in one week after the first conversation with you. The only permissible means of communicating is by regular mail. Alberta and Nova Scotia have a similar "three strikes" rule limiting the amount of contact from collectors within a seven-day consecutive period.

"One of the things you can do in B.C. and most other provinces is inform these people that they're not to contact you, but they can only contact you by mail," Cran said. "After you've done that, they're not allowed to phone you."

Some provinces — such as Ontario, B.C., Quebec, Alberta, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia — have laws stating that contact must cease if the consumer has "properly disputed" the debt owed. A person can contest the debt in writing and send a registered letter to the agency informing the firm that the case can be taken up in court.

Can the debt collector lie or threaten legal action?

Deception could be part of an unscrupulous collection business's arsenal of dirty tricks.

Nearly every province or territory has a consumer protection law specifically addressing the use of bogus legal documents or false information to mislead the debtor.

Misinformation can run the gamut from lying about the amount of debt owed to pretending to be someone different (for example, posing as a lawyer) to threatening to sue when the collection firm has no intention or authority to do so.

As far as verbal abuse goes, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are among the provinces that state that collection agents cannot use profane, intimidating, or "coercive" language when dealing with debtors. Alberta and Northwest Territories also mention that collection agents may not threaten physical harm.

Can they ask other people about you?

In general in Canada, collectors can’t approach a debtor's family, friends or employer, though Cran said he's heard of agents showing up in public venues to accost a debtor about outstanding bills.

"They'll find out where you congregate, maybe after lunch or after work where you’ve gone to have a beer, and they’ll approach you in front of friends — anything to embarrass you," Cran said.

New Brunswick's regulations state that a collector can’t threaten to embarrass a debtor with information about credit woes.

There are a couple exceptions to rules prohibiting communication with friends, family and co-workers.

For example, the agent may, in some cases, contact a target debtor’s acquaintances in order to track down a mailing address. There might also be exceptions for speaking with a neighbour or family member who has agreed to act as a guarantor for the repayment of the debt.

More information on provincial and territorial laws pertaining to collection agencies:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/11/01/f-bill-collectors-questions.html

And from the Canadian Consumer Handbook:

Collection firm no-no's:

  • Trying to collect a debt without first notifying you in writing or making a reasonable attempt to do so.

  • Recommending or starting legal or court action to collect a debt without first notifying you.

  • Communicating with you or your family such that the communication amounts to harassment, or calling to collect a debt at certain prohibited times (which vary from one province or territory to another).

  • Implying or giving false or misleading information to anyone.

  • Communicating or attempting to communicate with you without identifying themselves, saying who is owed the money and stating the amount owed.

  • Continuing to demand payment from a person who claims not to owe the money, unless the agency first takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the person does, in fact, owe the money.

  • Contacting your friends, employer, relatives or neighbours for information, other than to get your telephone number or address. An exception would be if any of these people have guaranteed the debt or if you have asked the agency to contact them to discuss the debt or, in the case of your employer, to confirm your employment, your job title and your work address.

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