When speaking with a debt collector on the phone, DON’T be your own worst enemy!
Debt Collectors and their attorneys can often get some of the most useful and destructive information from the consumer himself or herself. Debt Collectors are trained in how to get personal information, such as dates of birth, social security numbers, addresses, bank account numbers, and other such information directly from the consumer with a simple phone call. This information is solicited often by the friendliest sounding person on the other end of the call whose sole goal is to exploit the consumer’s good manners, fears, and perhaps even a sense of responsibility or shame.
These friendly sounding collectors may call as if they are simply “updating” or “verifying” an account, or maybe they will act as though they are trying to help out the consumer by offering reduced amounts or lower terms. There are laws requiring that debt collectors not make false representations as they go about their collection work, but the law is only effective when the violators are caught or are at the very least concerned about getting caught.
Furthermore, there is no law at all that requires a consumer to provide personal information to debt collector or anyone for that matter over the phone. I often tell my clients that if a debt collector calls their home and asks for a social security number to “verify” identity or for any other purpose, they should first ask for the first and last name of the person on the other end of the call. Then, they should ask what company the person is calling from and what account number they are calling about. If the debt collector on the other end of the line won’t tell you even this basic information this is a huge red flag. Don’t even think about giving out any personal information during that call. Don’t give out information about your residence or workplace either.
If you picked up the phone and called a stranger, would you expect them to give up their social security number or date of birth just because you asked for it? Of course not.
The debt collector won’t trust you with their own last name. This is the best clue you will ever get that you should not trust them to verify anything. What is likely taking place during the course of these calls is that the debt collector is acquiring all of the information available to determine what property and accounts are available to satisfy an alleged outstanding debt. The debt collector may not have your social security number, date of birth, or current address until YOU give it to them. Depending on whether or not there is already a judgment, they may be preparing to garnish wages or accounts or start other damaging collection processes.
Instead of giving any information out over the telephone, which is never required under any circumstances, insist that any requests be made in writing. This way, there will be a record of the request that you can then review, keep for your records, and even show to an attorney if you have one. It cannot be more clear than this. Do not give out personal information to debt collectors over the telephone, period.
This is not the same type of call as when you call a credit card company or cable company to start a service. This is not the same as when you call one of these companies to discuss an account. In a situation such as that where you are familiar with the company and you have trusted them with this information upon opening your account with them, it is reasonable for the person on the other end to request personal information to protect against identity theft or other fraud. When a debt collector calls you, or when anyone for that matter calls you and requests that you give them your social security number or an account number, you should imagine a person on a bus asking you how much money is in your purse or wallet. Imagine how shocked and even scared you might feel if someone were to ask you that in public. This is how concerned and defensive you should feel when someone asks for this information over the phone.
If you refuse to provide the information over the phone, which you should, you will often quickly detect some annoyance on the part of the debt collector. They may become more aggressive and tell you that they are just trying to help you. They may begin to take on a much more authoritative tone and perhaps even sound more ominous and threatening. If this is what takes place, then you can be certain that you refused to cooperate with someone you had no business cooperating with in the first place.
However, there is one situation in which you may be forced to disclose some information regarding your assets or workplace if directed to do so by a court to a creditor who already has a judgment against you. This is called “Post Judgment Interrogatories” and is essentially a set of written questions sent to you usually by a collections attorney which asks for this information. It would also be filed with the court where the creditor has been granted the judgment against you. Regardless, this request is in writing and would never be asked of you over the phone.