Channeling the Debt Collector

Empathy is something I hear coupled with bipolar disorder time and time again, but lately the idea of “empathy” has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me.

A few years ago I was on my way to have a nice birthday dinner out with my mom, my grandma, and my sister. Italian food, I was stoked. At least, I was stoked until my cell phone rang, and I unwittingly answered it.

It was a debt collector, calling to tell me to pay up.


You know, I really try to be extremely careful, especially since I have such little money, but things happen. Outside forces beyond my control (bills being sent to the wrong address, by fault of the bank, for example) really were trying to take me down for a long time, and it was as if some kind of karmaic force had been unleashed upon me. Beyond that I have the fun bipolar beast breathing down my back, which has provided me with the wonderful pastime of racking up the debt, either by way of medical bills or… no, well, just the medical bills. I don’t do the traditional “reckless spending” for the most part, but I have had several expensive emergency room visits due to the delusional belief that I might die at any moment. So it is kind of a trade-off there.

I can’t imagine really calling a birthday while being harassed by debt collectors a good one, and it is probably the closest thing to a swift kick in the balls I have experienced on a birthday.

People want their money, I understand that, but I am a firm believer that bills have a tendency to show up on the desk of a debt collector long before they ought to, or at least that there should be some middle level of understanding. I’ve harped, time and time again, that those that work in debt collection must be the scum of the earth, since they are basically paid to harass people and try and get money out of them. Many of these people on the receiving end, like me, have literally nothing to give.

So at first, when one of my previous employers forgot to give me my final paycheck, I tried to be courteous. I tried to be compliant. I tried civilized conversations and phone calls and the like.

But now, months have passed, and still no paycheck. About a month ago I was told that it was going to be deposited in my account by Friday (ha) and lo and behold, of course. It wasn’t there.

Normally I wouldn’t care so much, but this is the same company I recently left because of the astounding discrimination I was met with by a new store manager. I initially wrote off what happened with her as being a singular incident (as in, just the actions of one employee alone, not the action of the company), but as soon as I spent a WEEK attempting to contact the HR department with no return call to the 12 calls I left, this has now become a problem I have with the company, not just an individual.

What blows my mind is that I whole-heartedly and truly believe the person who keeps failing to pay me isn’t trying to retaliate against me for what happened (as I’m sure she’s oblivious to it), this is just a separate incidence of total failure on the part of this company’s top employees.

Something inside me grows, something ruthless, something fierce. I have the overwhelming urge to screw with these people, to call them several times a day and leave the same message over and over and over again, only to suddenly want to employ 15 of my friends to do the same thing so the phone rings and rings and rings for days without relief.

And that’s when the needle slipped off the record. The maniacal music, stopping abruptly, leaves only silence.

You owe a debt. I am here to collect that debt.

Oh no.

Am I channeling debt collectors? Is this what it’s like?

And suddenly, yes. I feel empathy. Feeling helpless until all you can do is harass someone into submission, the plight of the debt collector.

I’ve always identified with the evil villain in stories. The hero was too shiny and perfect to be able to understand. But the villain, they are evil, sure, but they’re often also misunderstood.

I wish I could call it strictly business at this point, but it isn’t. It’s personal.

It became personal the moment I was told that they wouldn’t make any kind of accommodations for me, disability or not.

So I’m contemplating what steps to take next. I don’t want to do anything outlandish, but I need to make an impact. I can’t keep doing the same thing to get zero results. I might be able to reach a “superior” of some kind directly, but it is a long shot. Until then, the thinking cap is on.

4 responses to “Channeling the Debt Collector

  1. I was a debt collector for a VERY short time, about a month. I couldn’t take it. Once a day the boss collector would run around saying “money, money, money” and waving a fist full of fake money. It was sick. I worked for Payco / General American credits. I hope you fiends are out of business.

    As far as medical bills they had a special department and collectors set up for that. They called it “medical monitoring”. The second any medical cost was the least bit behind or getting even near to behind they’d jump on these unfortunate people. These people weren’t deadbeats or anything. These people just had medical expenses. (and expenses they shouldn’t have in the first place. Don’t get me started on that.

    Debt collectors and HR people are right up near the top in my top ten of scumbags. There may be one in a thousand that actually has some empathy and helps these people, but they are few and far between.

    Sorry I sound like a bitter whiner but what I say is true and an extremely unfortunate state for our country to be in.

  2. My husband does it like this. He’s polite at first, and then he becomes more and more assertive to the point of almost combative. Almost. He’ll throw down threats in such a manner that people have to comply.

    I’d say go about it like that. If someone tells you that you have to leave a message, insist that you speak with someone directly. Point out that you have left many messages and that you’re through with that. And, if it comes down to it, you’ll go over their heads. That’s that. Put your foot down with people. Because most of the time, as much as we don’t want to, we have to.

  3. If you do a little online research, you will find a host of sites that tell you what collectors can or cannot do, how to file complaints, etc. And I’m speaking of governmental and non-profit sites, not law firms giving you information so that they can “substantially reduce or even eliminate you debt altogether!”

    Also, it’s a good idea to keep detailed notes of the days and times they call, and records of any other communications.

    I believe that in many states, if you write to or email a collector and insist they only contact you in writing, they have to comply with this and stop calling.

    The laws debt collectors have to abide by leave some wiggle room for them to harass you, but that wiggle room also gives you the opportunity to bluff a little. Tell the collectors you are contacting the appropriate office of the government (this is another reason you need to research, different types of debts are handled by different divisions) to file a formal complaint against them (and if they have broken any laws, make sure to actually do it). This won’t relieve the debt, but it will get their attention and get them off of your butt faster than you can say a**holes.

    Also, I don’t know if you are on SSI or SSDI, but basically all forms of disability are rigorously protected by laws, and that income cannot be touched by collectors (unless it’s for something like child support).

    And remember, these people took these jobs (which in itself isn’t reprehensible) and have been trained to harass, threaten, abuse, and psychologically torture you (while not quite straying into illegality) until they get the money (that part is what makes their behavior towards you so sickening).

    I have dealt with a lot of this, to the point where I no longer answer my phone unless I know the number. But you do have some protections available to you, and I say use absolutely every weapon you can. Just because it’s legally money that you owe them, they have no right to treat you like a child murderer.

    • Oh trust me, I went through all that back in the day, but thankfully I’ve been largely debt free for a while now (well, minus those good ol’ student loans). I waged war and kicked some butt in the debt collector department, and when I told one collector I would only accept a paper bill from them and he replied they “couldn’t do that” I told him I had no physical evidence for his claim and therefore couldn’t pay him, and hung up.

      That REALLY got their attention, and they were quite compliant after that.

      These are good tips though and I would say most people are unaware of them. I think it is especially important to demand a physical statement in writing from them, otherwise literally anyone could be calling you on the phone claiming to be a debt collector and demanding money.

      I just wish I had some tips on how better to resolve the opposite problem (the one I seem to be having now) because short of hiring a lawyer I seem to be at a loss.

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