Complaints about collection agencies top a new tally of consumer gripes from one chapter of the Better Business Bureau, according to a recent report in The Houston Chronicle.

Consumers were specifically upset about collection agencies harassing them over debts they didn't owe.  This is an enormous problem. That's because a big part of the industry is made up by scavengers who buy up old debt with dubious info on the original borrower and the correct amount of the debt itself. Then the scavengers repeatedly call people of the same or similar name as the original borrower and bug them about the money.  

Too often I get callers on my show that think the only way to deal with being harassed by these scavengers is to pay up -- even though the debt is not theirs! That's not the way to deal with a bully.

Here's the funny thing. There is a provision in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that allows somebody who legitimately owes a debt to tell a collector not to contact them anymore. But there is no such provision for people who don't legitimately owe a debt when they're dealing with collectors. Obviously, that was an oversight of legislators. The FDCPA needs an added amendment to cover this. But until that happens, here's what I recommend:

  • If you have caller ID, don't answer the phone when you see a number you don't recognize.
  • If you do end up on the phone and you have an answering machine, begin by telling the collector you're recording the call. Then state that the debt is not yours and advise them not to call you again. Say that if they do keep calling you, you will turn the tables and sue them for harassment. (Very few people actually do this, but it needs to be done more.)

Meanwhile, 3 other complaints on the BBB tally involve automobiles. No surprise there. A lot of people in the car business play the game straight and fair. But there are still a lot of bad apples out there. So do your homework before you get to a dealer.

First and foremost, be sure to pre-arrange auto financing at a credit union, online bank or traditional bank. Second, be sure to get any used car inspected by a mechanic as a condition of purchase. Do those things and you'll avoid 99.99% of the most common problems with auto buying.

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. View More Articles

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