If a debt collector is wrong, can you prove your innocence?
Whose responsibility is it to prove whether money is owed: the consumer or the debt collector?
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, David Lazarus explores the growing problem of “overzealous” and fraudulent debt collection.
As was the case with the central character of Lazarus’ article, Richard Leza, some debt collection calls come as a surprise to those who owe. Who, then, has the responsibility of either proving guilt or innocence when the debt is challenged?
In his article, Lazarus details the pursuits of two debt-collecting agencies who claim Leza owes money to Verizon for outstanding phone bills. Neither company was willing to answer his request for proof.
"The responsibility (of proof) lies primarily with the collector," Chris Koegel of the Federal Trade Commission told Lazarus. "That's how we interpret the law."
“(Leza) is not the sort of guy who skips payments,” Lazarus writes, which is why he had reason to suspect a mistake. After contacting Verizon, Leza discovered they do not have any overdue payments on record, so he’s challenging the collectors.
Lazarus’ article comes in light of a recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission that fined Expert Global Solutions, the world’s largest debt collection agency, for a reported $3.2 million for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Citing “calling too much” as the main violation, the FTC has issued a number of restrictions to the debt collections agency, including a ban on contacting third parties about an individual’s debt.
“Despite what some debt collectors may want people to think,” Lazarus writes, “the law is on the consumers' side."