Your cell phone rings, “UNKNOWN CALLER,” you answer…You hear nothing and all of a sudden what sounds like a robot comes on: “this call is intended for John Doe. Please stay on the line and hold for one of our representatives”.
If you happen to hold, eventually a debt collector gets on the phone and starts harassing you until you agree to pay and divulge private information, such as your social security number. In other scenarios, consumers have felt so pressured that they make agreements that they cannot possibly meet. For many, they eventually stop answering the calls, but the persistent calls continue. You find yourself pressured to answer and deal with hard-nosed debt collectors that know all the tricks of the trade to force you into agreements you otherwise would not consider.
How do they do this? How can they do this? Well, let us fill you in on a little known fact that many companies in the debt collection industry would prefer to keep quiet. They are using sophisticated computers and software that allows them to systematically make thousands of calls per hour. They are known as “Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems” or “Auto Dialers”. These debt collectors or so-called “representatives” do not waste any of their time waiting for someone to answer or much less making the actual call. The amount of volume calling these machines allow them to make assures that “Johnny”, the pushy debt collector, has another call on the line the moment he finishes the last one. It’s engineering at its finest or in some cases, its worst.
How can I make them stop? Most people do not know how to make these calls stop. Knowing the law and knowing that law firms like Berkowtiz & Myer are a phone call or e-mail away is your first line of defense. You not only can make them stop, but you could be entitled to compensation from $500.00 to $1,500.00 per call you receive. Once you tell them to stop calling, they either abide and stop calling, or they may be in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).
This relatively unknown federal law was enacted back in 1991 and can be found at 47 U.S.C. § 227. The TCPA prohibits these debt collectors from ROBO CALLING your cell phone without permission (unless in emergency situations). If they decide to call you without permission they may be on the hook to you between $500 and $1,500 per call. So what is the catch? Well, the key is “without permission”. You might think you have never given them permission but courts have recently ruled the mere act of you placing your cell phone number on a credit application gives them “permission” to robo call your cell phone. See Mais v. Gulf Coast Collection Bureau, No. 13-14008 (11th Cir. 2014). But wait! It is very, very simple to revoke permission from the companies and you can do it next time they call and bother you.
NOT GIVING THEM PERMISSION TO CALL YOU?
Yes, that’s right. The law tells us that anyone can stop these robo calls from continuing by simply telling them to “Stop Calling”. See Osorio v. State Farm bank, F.S.B., No. 13-10951 (11th Cir. 2014). Don’t tell the robot or computer anything- wait until you get a live person on the line and tell them clearly: “I do not give you permission to call – stop calling my cell phone”. If you can’t speak with a live representative because the entire call is a pre-recorded message, immediately call the company back and tell them: “I do not give you permission to call – stop calling my cell phone”. Under the TCPA, you should now be free of harassing debt collection robo calls from that collection company. But does that always work? The answer is no. Invariably, some debt collection companies will not honor your request. They will leave you in the system and continue to robo call and harass you on your cell phone. This is when you spring into action.
HOW TO ACT- WHAT NEXT?
Once you have given the debt collector a verbal command to stop calling you, any call from that point forward is likely actionable. The most important part of your case is documentation. This can be simple. Follow these steps:
1) DOCUMENT CALLS – In today’s age, most people carry smart phones in which you can keep logs and notes. Start a chart that you can access and keep track of. After every call, take one minute to document the call.
2) INFORMATION – You will need to write down DAY/TIME of call; NUMBER that showed up on your caller ID; NAME of the company that called; and WHAT DEBT they are attempting to collect.
3) ANSWER THE PHONE – The more calls you answer and tell them to “stop calling”, the stronger your case becomes.
4) NOTES – Note anything they have said to attempt to get you to make payment on the debt. Language and details are very important.
5) CREDIBILITY – The more information we have, the better case we can build for you. Remember, most of these debt collectors record all their calls, so being accurate with all information is critical to maintaining a credible case against them.
CONTACT A TCPA ATTORNEY
The moment you receive your first call after you have told these debt collectors to stop calling you is the moment you have a potential case. What you will need to do is contact a TCPA law firm that regularly handles these types of cases. Since the beginning of my legal career I have devoted my practice to consumer law and handling cases like yours. Dealing with creditor harassment, day in and day out, it is easy to see how these calls can cause unnecessary levels of stress to people. I will speak to any potential client the moment they have received that first call from a debt collector or creditor and told them to “Stop Calling”. This is when I start my case evaluations with most clients. If you believe you may have a case, call me or simply email me at email@example.com and tell me what has happened.
Many of my clients have told creditors and debt collectors to stop calling and have documented calls. In some cases, multiple call violations have led to very lucrative settlements. The first step is knowing that these laws exist. Know that you do not have be a victim of illegal calls by these pushy debt collectors armed with machines that make thousands of calls per hour. Have your case reviewed immediately at no-cost.
Jon Dubbeld is head of the creditor harassment department at Berkowitz & Myer. He has successfully litigated many TCPA cases across the state of Florida. He may be contacted at Jon@berkmyer.com.