Okay, so this post isn't exactly keeping with the recent holiday spirit, but it's a pretty compelling topic given the nature of our blog. And sometimes, it takes extreme colors to paint the right picture.
A Tampa, Florida woman is suing a debt collection company for wrongful death relative to her husband's 2005 heart failure. Dianne McLeod is charging that the ceaseless and what can rather easily be deemed as remarkably unprofessional phone calls contributed directly to the stress that initiated her husband's cardiac arrest.
In 2002, not long after her husband had to be airlifted to a hospital because of heart trouble, the following message from an alleged Green Tree Servicing representative was left on the McLeod's answering machine:
"Stanley McLeod, you need to call Green Tree and get your act together and make your payments on your mortgage and quit playing these games ... Why don't you have that helicopter pick you up and bring that payment to the office?"
Making such a message even more hard to believe is the fact that it was because Stanley could no longer work that contributed to the family's debt problem. Disability payments were not enough to pay the bills. So the mortgage company hired Green Tree.
The collections company did not create Mr. McLeod's heart disease. However, Green Tree is accused of calling on some days up to ten times. They were also contacting the McLeod's neighbors. When they could reach Stanley, he would become so upset with the caller's tone that he would begin to sweat just listening to them. He would also complain of chest pain after hanging up. His widow is certain the company's demeanor and highly aggressive approach led to a rapid increase in stress and anxiety on an already strained heart.
Regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, debt collection efforts are often subject to scrutiny by those in debt. While the laws in place are meant to protect consumers, they are by no means tangible enough to be properly enforced within every debt collection office cubicle in the country. Many collection agents are short-term, hourly employees given a few days of training, a headset and computer-controlled call list. More over, the bonus structure for dollars collected creates a competitive work enviornment, which can easily lead to collection efforts that skirt the federal guidelines. No other industry receives more complaints than debt collection.
A representative for the company flatly denied the company's attempts to seek restitution from the McLeods contributed to Stanley's death.
"The collection activity did not lead to his death. The claim is meritless," said Brian Corey of Green Tree Servicing. "We deny that the content, the number or the timing of the calls had anything to do with him dying in 2005."
Scare tactics have long been an effective method by which to collect money owed. Heck, it's the very strategy upon which the mafia is built. Now, that's a reference used only to demonstrate that when typical collection efforts may not be effective, an inexperienced and frustrated collections agent may be tempted to resort to tactics not considered "above board." And, it's a comparison supported by industry analysts.
Billy Howard, the attorney representing Ms. McLeod, said his firm is also representing close to 500 individuals against companies that use, what he deems "Tony Soprano tactics." Tony Soprano is a fictional mobster who glorified mob life in HBO's series "The Sopranos."
Howard states that most consumers, afraid of debt repercussions and stressed to the hilt, do not know which end is up financially, let alone the esoteric laws regarding debt collection. "Scare tactics work. They've worked for years. People are scared," he said.
The McLeod trial will start in January. Happy New Year.