In this down economy, with more and more people facing for closures and bankruptcy, business is booming for collection agents, skip tracers and repo men. Assuming that there is nothing at the moment you can do to address your debts, the practical alternative is to avoid them and at the same time, buy some time and save yourself the unnecessary added stress of their constant harassment. When it comes to peace of mind, sometimes you got to do what you have to to get it. And before someone goes on a rant that anyone who owes money deserves whatever harassment that they get–remember that there are tons of fake collection scams, zombie debt and other related fraud. Is it huge nowadays, so it could be that you are getting calls from debt collectors without owing anyone a dime!
Its not only in the US where these bill collectors are using often illegal tactics like threats, calling one’s place of work and harrassing the debtor, and sending fake “official” looking documents. In Canada, they buy debt from credit card companies, utilities and other companies, and then try to get consumers to pay it back along with fees and penalties, mostly using questionable tactics. Canadian collection agencies are hiring lawyers to send out thousands of real looking but fake draft statements of claim with cover letters, all of which which look exactly like a court judgement, tricking the debtor into compliance. They fool most debtors as they have an official looking letterhead and red notary seal. Good thing is the law is cracking down on these scumbags, and some of the lawyers risk being disbarred. An example of the kind of thing they are doing here in the USA:
How Debt Collectors Find You
If you are leaving any substantial degree of debt, it is a matter of time before your phone starts ringing dozens of times a day. If you have a vehicle or boat, then there is also the repo men that will eventually show up. There are many ways that debt collectors can find us – some pretty self evident and some not so. Case in point, some collection agencies, like the notorious CBV Collections Canada debt collectors are using cute chicks on Facebook as bait!!
Telephones and phone Directories
I am stating the most obvious, never ever have a phone in your name. Never ever return a call to a collection agent from your own phone. Using *67 to block your number will not work when calling a 1-800 number, and, quite often they will leave a local number that redirects to a toll-free number to phish out your number. The way to deal with this is to get an anonymous, pre-paid cell phone and if you must return their calls, use one of those cheap pre-paid calling cards for $5 or $10 as an extra layer of protection. That will frustrate their attempts. If they ask for your number, say that you do not have a phone and are calling from a public phone. Never ever use a friend, ex spouse or family member’s phone to call these people either.
Also make sure that if you are changing phone providers, it might not be enough to make the new number an unpublished one, as online directories will sometimes fly under the radar and list your new phone regardless. I know of cases where this has happened; the client is charged by the phone company $5 a month for an unlisted number and then some other company’s directory lists the number anyway!
If you are going to insist on getting a landline phone, use a different name. If your name is, say, “John Edward Smith”, tell the new phone company that your name is “Ed Smith” or “John Edward”. This trick works most of the time. The first example is likely the best, because if anyone questions it, just say that you have always used your middle name as your first name. Who is to know otherwise?
Another great service is an online VoIP Internet phone service called “Magic Jack“. It costs less than $50 a year and offers unlimited calling too. Another option is to get Skype. In either case, find an alternate way of paying for it, other than any form of payment that can leave a paper trail back to you.
If they have a hunch where you live, they can use a reverse directory to cross-reference your neighbors and grill them if they know you. Also, it goes without saying, be very careful of who you give the number to.
Be careful when answering the phone! One reader from Canada advised me that what happened to her is that the bill collection people were actually spoofing the number on the call display. She had owed money on her Visa card which went into collections. After ignoring the collection’s calls or hanging up on them, they tried a new tactic – making the number on the call display show up as “Bell Canada – 1-877-866-8880″ – the main phone and Internet provider in Canada. So, I am thinking, that the bill collector’s were betting that there is a high chance that she actually used that provider for telecom services, since there are only three big telecos in Canada (Bell, Rogers and Telus). Sneaky or what? Be very careful and always mindful of the lows these parasites will go to to find you!
Mail And Postal Services
If they do get you address and send you mail, be careful of return addresses. Best to use a “mail drop” or “mail forwarding service” like Earth Class Mail. They offer several street addresses which you can have mail and parcels forwarded for you. Bill collectors receive notification of your Earth Class Mail address which will confuse them where you are really residing. The service offers a web-based interface from which to manage your mail. You can have certain packages forwarded to certain addresses and others to other locations or even issue a directive to have any mail shredded. You forward your mail, in real time with a mouse click. The service costs around $20 a month, which is not much for added peace of mind.
Your Credit Report and Income Tax Information
In most cases, you are the most vulnerable by the info that the various credit bureaus give out to collection agencies. Then there is the IRS (or in Canada, the CRA) who, if you filed your income taxes or got a tax return, will have your address among other things to offer the bill collectors. If you must file for an income tax return, make sure to not offer your real address or phone number. In the case of the credit bureau, it is best to obtain a consolidated copy of your credit report and update your new, decoy telephone and address with them. This will update the info with all of the main credit bureaus, who in turn will feed the collections people bogus information, which will buy you time.
Another liability is the public records database, which can be an issue if you own any property, boats or vehicles. One of their tricks is to keep checking the DMV records of parking tickets. If you get a parking ticket, it may list your home phone or address, so be careful again of what information you offer authorities. Something else you want to avoid is having any utilities in your name – cable TV, hydro, gas, etc can all lead bill collectors to you if you are not careful. So, again, use a variation of your real name or get the utilities listed in a trusted friend’s name.
Family, Friends, Ex’s, Employers and Neighbors
Again, be careful of to whom you reveal your personal contact information to. I wouldn’t want to know who many people had a repo man snatching their car who found their address from a vindictive ex-spouse or do-gooder “friend”.
Hopefully these simple but effective techniques can buy you time and at the same time frustrate and drain the limited resources of the collection agents on your trail.
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