COLORADO SPRINGS — Financial challenges have gone hand in hand with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an increasing number of complaints about high pressure phone calls from debt collectors. News5 breaks down the case of a Colorado Springs woman that legal experts say was a victory in pushing back against these calls.
According to government officials medical debt is the number one reason debt collectors are contacting people in our country, making up more than half of those debt collection calls.
News5 uncovered court documents showing a Colorado Springs woman recently won a court case against a medical debt collection company after the Denver-based federal appeals court agreed the company violated consumer protection law by contacting her after she demanded in writing she wanted the calls to stop.
Colorado Springs resident Elizabeth Lupia formally disputed her medical debt after a 2017 procedure and requested in writing that the debt collection company stop calling her, but before the company processed that letter, it called her again. This led to a lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
"They got sent a cease and desist letter to stop calling this woman. They didn't do it," said Stephen Longo, a local legal expert and leader of The Longo Firm. "And even if it was just one day and one call they didn't have any delineated policies and procedures to make sure that didn't happen and because of that the court ruled in her favor."
He says when it comes to dealing with unwanted contacts from debt collectors there are some things consumers can learn from this woman's case.
"The first thing you need to do is dispute the debt. I don't think I owe this money. I am disputing the debt," said Longo. "Secondly, what she did that's equally important is she is saying stop. This is a cease and desist aside from me disputing the debt, stop calling me, contacting me, and bothering me about this alleged debt and those two things proved critical in her case."
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says harassing debt collector calls are a common complaint to his office, especially when it comes to medical debt.
"Close to one in five Americans has medical debt right now that is in collections," said Weiser. "So one in five Americans find themselves in this position where there is a debt collector out there trying to collect money for medical debt."
According to the National Consumer Law Center, an estimated 70 million people have a bill in collections at any given time. That's nearly 1 in 4 adult Americans. An estimated 18 million Americans have more than one bill in collections, setting them up for multiple contacts a day from multiple collectors.
"File a complaint with us. This is at our website under credit and debt complaints. We're here to help the people of Colorado so they aren't going to be harassed and mistreated by these debt collectors," said Weiser.
We first reported on the challenges surrounding aggressive debt collectors back in April and we will continue to follow this story.
There are situations where debt collectors can even contact you through social media now.
So what do you do if you're being contacted, or in some cases hounded by debt collectors?
- Make them verify the debt. Make sure you actually owe money.
- Opt out. Request in writing that you no longer want to be contacted.
- Contact your original creditor and see if you can negotiate a payment plan, or even pay back a little less than what you owe.
- If you find yourself overwhelmed, it may be time to seek some legal help to make sure you're being treated fairly.
Debt that's in collections will have a negative impact on your credit score and can potentially impact you for a number of years. Experts advise paying down that debt as quickly as possible by setting up a payment plan that works for your budget.