That kind of credit score would make Stack eligible for some of the best borrowing deals around, and it certainly doesn’t reflect a borrower who has an unpaid debt.
But that’s not what a debt collector says.
Stack, 65, started receiving calls from Palisades Collections of Englewood Cliffs in May 2012. He said the debt collector said he owed a credit card bill from 2002– more than 10 years ago.
“I told them I thought that was paid off and they made a mistake,” the Brick man said.
Stack said he checked his credit report, but there was no unpaid debt listed.
The company called again, he said.
“I asked them to send me something in writing, and they never did,” he said.
The company called again. And again. And the company kept calling.
“I said, ‘Don’t call this number again.’ That was my work number,” said Stack, a Vietnam veteran who at the time of the collections calls was working as a ground security coordinator for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at McGuire Air Force Base. “But they kept calling. Then they called my house. I told them they had made a mistake.”
Stack was sure there was an error because he’s gone through a host of background checks, which also included credit checks, for his current and former jobs. When he retired as an airline employee after 9/11, he took a position as a recruiter for the Federal Air Marshal Service. After that, in 2007, he worked for customs until his recent retirement.
“They all did credit checks. If there was a problem, they would have told me,” he said. “I have good credit.”
When the collections calls didn’t stop, Stack said he knew his rights and that the company wasn’t abiding by the law. He called a lawyer.
Before looking further into the case, we took a quick look at Palisades.
There have been 598 federal lawsuits filed against Palisades since 2005, and an overwhelming majority concern alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), according to court documents. Of those, 95 suits were filed in 2012, and there were seven new suits as of last week in 2013.
The Better Business Bureau received 237 complaints against the company in the past three years, and the company has earned a rating of “D+.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs has 45 complaints against Palisades since 2011.
FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect from you, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Debt collectors are not permitted to contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you say that’s okay. They also can’t contact you at work as long as you’ve told them, verbally or in writing, not to contact you there.
The debt collector must send you a written notice, called a “validation notice,” within five days after it first contacts you, said the FTC. The notice must include the creditor’s name, and what you should do next if you do, or don’t, owe the money.
Stack’s attorney said Palisades has violated FDCPA several ways.
On July 5, the attorney notified Palisades that a claim against the company under FDCPA was being prepared, and that the letter should be considered a notice to cease and desist and that the company should stop contacting Stack, but should contact the attorney instead.
But Stack said the collection calls continued.
On July 27, the attorney sent a second letter to Palisades, against insisting it stop contacting Stack.
The lawsuit against Palisades was filed three days later.
In addition to claiming that Palisades continued to call Stack — on a near-daily basis — despite his requests for the calls to stop and despite the same request from Stack’s attorney, the suit claims it took several requests by Stack before Palisades gave notice of the debt in writing. After Palisades provided account statements for the alleged debt, “it had become clear that the debt had indeed been paid in its entirety in or around 2002,” the suit said.
The suit also claims: “Defendant acted with the intent to harass and deceive Plaintiff and intended to violate his rights under the law,” and, “Defendant continued to call for more than two weeks after actual notice of representation by counsel, indicating either an intent to violate Plaintiff’s rights, or the hiring of personnel who were not properly trained to implement cease and desist letters of counsel.”
Ten violations of the FDCPA in all, the suit claims.
Stack’s attorney, Amy Bennecoff of Kimmel & Silverman in Ambler, Pa., said there was a settlement conference in December, but nothing was resolved. Another settlement conference is scheduled for Feb. 21.
A message left for the legal team at Palisades was not returned.
Bennecoff said it’s important for consumers to know their rights. For example, Stack knew that Palisades could not continue to contact him at work after he requested they stop.
Stack also knew that in New Jersey, a lender can no longer take action to pursue a debt that’s more than six years old.
“However, even when you are doing what you are supposed to do under the FDCPA as the consumer, the debt collector may not always do what they are supposed to do,” she said. “It is important to know that you have legal options if they fail to do what they are supposed to do and more importantly, that there is no cost associated with those legal options.”
That’s because FDCPA allows for the payment of attorneys fees and related costs.
Stack’s attorney is looking for statutory damages under FDCPA, actual damages under FDCPA and New Jersey common law (a negligence claim), punitive damages under the negligence claim, and attorneys fees and costs pursuant to the FDCPA.
“I just want to be done with this thing,” Stack said.
To learn more about your rights as a consumer, check out the Federal Trade Commission web site. You can file a complaint with the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
You can also file a complaint with Consumer Affairs, but right now, the agency refers its complaints to the FTC. The state says that’s because New Jersey doesn’t have its own debt collection law to match the FDCPA.
“The Division of Consumer Affairs has supported the idea of creating a similar law for New Jersey, which would enable us to take a more direct role in protecting consumers from unfair or predatory debt collection practices,” said acting director Eric Kanefsky.
Consumer Affairs wants to remind Bamboozled readers that National Consumer Protection Week begins March 4, at which time the agency will unveil a new debt collection handbook with advice for dealing with debt collectors.
We’ll let you know what happens with Stack’s case.