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Consumers who are “between jobs” have seen their credit card balances explode as they swipe plastic to make ends meet. Their interest rates have soared too, thanks to something called the Universal Default Provision in their credit agreement: miss any payment, anywhere and Slam! You’re at 29.9% everywhere. Add late payment fees and over limit fees and…Surprise! Some folks just can’t keep up.

So they stop paying. That’s when the collection calls begin. And when they try to be reasonable and explain their good intentions and ask for a payment plan they can afford, the debt collectors spin their head just like Linda Blair.

Debt collectors are trained – perhaps bred – to bully consumers into paying money under duress. A client of mine received such a collection call, and when she explained that she was a single mom raising two kids and had just lost her job, she was met with this compassionate reply: “You’re lying. You probably quit so you could stay in bed and watch TV all day. How do you expect to raise good kids with morals like that? I’m gonna call Child Services. They’ll find your kids a decent home. CLICK.”…… Not everyone can do this work.

So, how does one cope with overly aggressive debt collectors? When you are under the money gun, you are not on your “A” game to begin with. So, how can you keep your head on straight in the face of even permissible levels of collection pressure? Here are a few tips which, by the way, apply to any negotiation not just collections.

Rule 1: Threats and abuse are simply tactics – no more, no less. In a collection context, they are designed to scare you into making payment just to end the pain. Although prohibited by the federal and the California Fair Debt Collection Practices Acts [FDCPA & CFDCPA], these tactics are common because they work. People quiver and pay because they don’t understand what you know now: Threats are bait. If you don’t bite, you can’t get caught. If you stay cool, they don’t work. Remember: Harassment is not personal! Debt collectors recycle the same trash on every call – over and over. It’s not about you. It’s only a tactic. So don’t buy in. Instead, remember this axiom: “The effectiveness of the threat is determined by your reaction to it.” Read it again. ” The effectiveness of a threat, etc. etc…” It means that you have the power to disregard and, thereby, neutralize any abusive collection tactic visited upon you. The key is to recognize when you are being “gamed”, and then to !

step back, take a deep breath, and “name the game”: ”Oh, I get it. You are trying to bully me into paying by using an illegal collection tactic. Well… thanks but no thanks. Good bye. CLICK. ” Round one to you. Then, make a note of the call: Who, what, when and what was said. And prepare for round two with a note pad handy. [The laws on tape recording are complicated and vary from state to state.]

Rule 2: While debt collectors are often rude, threats and abuse may signal a weak case against you. When you are depressed by debt, it’s easy to assume a collector holds all the cards. Au contraire. All debt collectors are not equal, and some may have no cards at all. Here’s how to tell: original creditors – the banks that issue credit cards such as Capital One, Chase, Citibank, American Express, etc. – keep all documents, including your signed application, if any, monthly statements, copies of checks, etc. While some banks keep better records than others, an original creditor can likely prove its case in a collection lawsuit against you. Not so for subsequent owners of the debt. Defaulted credit card accounts are not always kept by the original creditor, but instead are sold to third parties called “debt buyers”. These companies, which buy millions in debt for pennies on the dollar, may take a few whacks at you, and, if they can’t collect, sell the debt again for even less.All this buying and selling is done by computer. By the time the debt is sold once, twice, or three times, it is unlikely that the debt buyer can establish a clear “chain of title” – that is: document in court that they own the right to collect your specific credit card account .

Even if they have documents showing transfer from A to B to C – and they don’t – chain of title is expensive to prove, requiring witnesses – known as custodian of records – often from other states to authenticate the records in open court. Without proof of ownership, there is NO case in a debt collection lawsuit. Sure, they may be able to prove you owe SOMEONE. But can they prove that someone is THEM? No way. Knowing this, how can they get your money? Collection PRESSURE.

So, now that you’re not taking the bait, here are your marching orders: When you get a call, find out whether the caller is, or represents, an original creditor or a debt buyer. Then ask them for written proof that you owe THEM. If they can’t or won’t provide it, ask yourself how much money you want to pay someone you may not owe.

About The Author

Bill Rose is an attorney who specializes in helping consumers with credit and collection issues. His firm, The Law Office of William J. Rose,, supports consumers who are: facing a debt collection lawsuit, struggling with harassment by collectors, or negotiating debt settlement. This article is brought to you by the number one magazine for wholesale merchandise, Retailers Forum.