Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Recently I heard an account of an especially disturbing fact pattern, and I suspect it is all too common. A loan company called the "employer" of a borrower, superficially to ask to speak to the employee. When the employer said "this isn't [the employee's] shift time," the caller said, "Well, then I'll talk to you. Your employee is X dollars in debt to our company and hasn't paid. Would you like to make a payment on his account today by phone to help him out?"
The "employer" in this case is the care-needing client. Apparently the client has dementia and has enough understanding to be frightened by the call --"if I don't pay, I could lose my helper" -- but not enough to truly understand what happened.
Let's be clear. Such a communication appears to be a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act on several levels. State debt collection laws may be even more relevant to the improper conduct involved here. For example, as a starting place federal law governing "communication in connection with debt collection" provides at 15 U.S.C. Section 1692(c):
(b) Communication with third parties
Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector, or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, or as reasonably necessary to effectuate a postjudgment judicial remedy, a debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer, his attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the creditor, the attorney of the creditor, or the attorney of the debt collector.
The employee in this situation can and should immediately instruct any debt collector not to call his or her employer or client. (The employee also has the right to demand all calls cease, even to the employee's own home numbers and to direct that any further communications be in writing only.) Further, by releasing personal details about the employee's debt to the employer, the debt collector would appear to have triggered substantial financial penalties for the loan company, with sanctions of up to $1,000 per violation, as explained here and here and here. In the context of a caregiver's workplace, this entire scenario seems uniquely abusive to both employer and employee. A home telephone is often a key lifeline for older adults and disabled persons. They do not need another reason to fear calls from manipulative people.