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Some businesses seem to revel in poor customer service, inept staff, and crummy merchandise—and then they cop an attitude about it! Others promise a lot but then deliver nothing. It's time that stopped! Each issue, PCS will feature area and national businesses that have failed their customers in some substantial way. Don't be their next victim!
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Oh My God! Please Make the (Wrongful) Collection Calls Stop!

Screaming woman


TeleCheck Recovery Services, Inc.
Houston, Texas (headquarters)


Stop the Insanity! No, Susan Powter (remember her?) isn't writing this column, but even she would be hard-pressed to be able to tolerate the onslaught of repeated daily automated phone-calls that begin, "This message is for [somebody you never heard of] concerning an important business matter. This is not a sales call. Please contact our office toll-free at 866-565-9163 on or before end of business day tomorrow for immediate resolution. Please reference file number XXXXXXXXXX when returning our call."

Think you'll just ignore the messages and they'll stop? Ha! Beginner! The automated voice will torment you forever, pressing you on how important it is that they are called back. Caller ID will show simply "Out of Area," so there's no hope in blocking their calls.

So, you'll just call them, tell them you don't know the person they're seeking, and the calls will stop, right? It's not so simple. First, enjoy going through a long phone tree, then winding up having to call 1-800-710-9898 instead, where another accursed phone-tree awaits you. After pleading your case, they say they'll remove your number, but months later the calls begin again. "But," you argue, "I already said that person doesn't live here!" The reply: "We removed the number, but it must have been added back." When you ask to have them permanently block the number from their calls, they respond that it's impossible. There's no way to stop this horror from returning to haunt you all the way to your grave! (In my case, the collection calls started up again only ONE DAY after TeleCheck had promised to stop! And that, TeleCheck, means that you lied.)

You're not alone, if that's any comfort. The internet is littered with complaints from innocent bystanders who can't seem to get the collection service to stop calling for a person who doesn't live at that number.

In this case, TeleCheck Recovery Services violated Texas Finance Code section 392.302(2) and the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act section 807(6) by failing to identify the individual making the call. They also violated Texas Finance Code sections 392.302(2) and 392.302(4) and the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act section 806(5) by making continuous calls with the intent to annoy. But, I could probably die of asphyxiation from holding my breath before I'd get any help from the state or federal government to prosecute them—especially in a consumer-unfriendly state like Texas.

But, if creditors are calling for someone who doesn't live at your home, there are still steps you can take to stop them from driving you mad....

First, try calling them back and explaining the situation. It may work temporarily, or it may work for good; either way, you'll have some peace and quiet. Write down the dates and times of their calls as well as the names of any creditors or agency employees you speak with, as well as the times you spoke with them, for future reference.

Second, send a "Cease and Desist" letter to the creditor or collection agency by U.S. Mail. (It should be sent Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.) You don't have to hire a lawyer to do this; there are free letters available on the internet. Note that, in some states, you must send this letter to take advantage of any protections your state may provide.

Third, take advantage of federal and state laws that protect you from harassment by creditors and collection agencies. You can read about the federal requirements at the Federal Trade Commission's website. You can also file a federal complaint if the creditor or agency violates these terms through the FTC. Check to see what rights you have to stop creditors under state law. (In Texas, for example, you can read about state requirements and file a complaint through the Texas Attorney General's Office. For some lenders in Texas, you can also file a complaint through the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner.)

Fourth, you can file an ethics complaint through The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, as well as through its state chapter. (For Texas, it's The Southwest Collectors Association, although the SWCA only handles complaints against third-party debt collection agencies, not creditors that directly contact you.)

Fifth, if the above steps don't seem to help, your state may allow you to file a lawsuit in small claims court against the creditor or agency. This can be time-consuming for you and can cost you much more than you recover; however, it will send the company a message that you're willing to frustrate them and cause them grief if they behave badly.

Sixth, if you have a VoIP (Voice over IP) phone over fiber, cable, or DSL, your internet provider may offer a free service called Nomorobo, which automatically blocks undesired calls using a national database of known robocall numbers. (Spectrum provides its own free alternative called Call Guard for its Spectrum Voice customers.) The Nomorobo service is also available as a $1.99/month add-on for mobile customers using an iPhone or Android device and will cover four phones.

In the case of TeleCheck, they're trying to recover payments for "hot checks"—checks that a person wrote when he or she did not have sufficient funds in the account to cover the payment when the checks were cashed. For those who are unaware, writing such checks is a criminal offense which can lead to jail terms and significant fines. It does not matter whether there were adequate funds in the account to cover the check at the time it was written. (Individuals are expected to keep track of the funds in their accounts and to ensure that they always have adequate funds to cover any outstanding checks.) Writing hot checks not only cheats businesses out of funds they are due—it also leads to higher costs for other customers of that business. Thus, by trying to recover these funds, TeleCheck is providing a public service. That does not give TeleCheck the right to harass innocent parties, however, or to violate state and federal statutes that dictate guidelines which creditors must follow to collect debts.

If you find yourself in a financial bind and cannot pay your bills, contact a nonprofit credit counseling service (preferably one that is state-licensed). You can find such a service through the Financial Counseling Association of America or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They can help log your debts and recommend options to assist you; if your debts are substantial, they may be able to work out scheduled payment plans and negotiate reduced interest rates with your creditors. Avoid debt settlement services, which can be expensive and may be unsuccessful in reducing your debt.

Economic times are tough, people can be over their head in medical bills and mortgage payments, and credit card companies are preying on us all—tacking on exorbitant fees while doubling or tripling interest rates when you fall behind. But, it's also your responsibility to track your spending and learn to live within your means. Don't fall prey to high-interest payday loans, and don't take out additional credit cards to try to cover previous debts—you can't borrow your way out of debt. Most of all, don't make things worse by writing hot checks; that can turn a credit problem into a crime you'll regret.

Postscript: In my situation with TeleCheck, I eventually contacted the company's Senior Counsel by phone, calmly explained their error and my efforts, and indicated that I would have to sue them if the calls did not cease. The attorney was very polite and said she would get the erroneous collection calls to stop, and she did.

All Been

(the envelope,

John Wayne Gacy sez:
"These clowns will treat you just as if you were in my own home!"

Bronze Bozo Award
John Wayne Gacy announces a winner!
goes to
TeleCheck Recovery Services, Inc.
Continued harassment of innocent parties, and violations of federal and state law

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