Minnesota-based debt collection agency Gurstel Chargo is now facing a lawsuit for verbally abusing the Army vet over a $6,000 defaulted student loan, Courthouse News reports.
“If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off Social Security while the rest of us honest Americans work our asses off,” one of the agency’s debt collectors allegedly told the vet. “Too bad, you should have died.”
Michael Collier was declared 100 per cent disabled after suffering permanent spine and head injuries while in the Army. As a result, both Collier and his wife receive disability payments from the federal Social Security Administration, which are exempt from seizure by debt collectors.
But in an attempt to collect on the defaulted student loan, the collector seized the money from Collier’s wife’s savings account. The credit union then proceeded to freeze her account.
The Colliers filed an objection and requested a court hearing, at which the couple was told their frozen funds were exempt from such garnishment.
But the debt collection agency’s lawyer continued to harass the couple. Telling Collier “he would need to get a lawyer in order to get his money back,” an unidentified paralegal cursed at and threatened him over the phone.
“F–k you!” the paralegal allegedly said, “Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces you.”
The couple is now seeking compensation for actual damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), privacy invasion, malicious infliction of emotional distress and conversion.
The FDCPA considers it abusive for a debt collector to make empty threats, misrepresent the legal status of a debt, or use obscene of profane language.
According to the Daily Beast, debt collectors sometimes use abusive techniques to pry money from the indebted because of the commission rates they receive. On average, debt collectors make 20 cents for every dollar recouped. At this rate, the Colliers’ debt would be worth $1,200 to Chargo.
Verbal harassment is a commonly-used technique to instigate debtors into making payments. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received 50,000 complaints about severe harassment from debt collectors, 18,000 of which included the use of obscene language.
And some say that number is low.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as far as I’m concerned,” attorney Sergei Lemberg told the Daily Beast.
While Chargo’s berating took it too far for the Colliers, there are of thousands of cases of abuse that never make it to court.