Invasion of the money snatchers
Book Review: 'Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices'By Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Tuesday, November 2, 2010.
Title: "Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices"
Author: Fred Williams
Publisher: FT Press, 2011; 224 pages; book: $19.79; book and e-book bundle: $26.09
You'd have to have lived under a very large rock for the last few years to not have heard of the not-so-slow death of investigative journalism. Newspapers are fast being replaced by websites, and those that remain have been largely reformatted to appeal to the miniscule 21st century American attention span.
One revision? The virtual elimination of both (a) the class of reporters who are paid to take weeks, months or even years to investigate a story (think: Watergate) and (b) the long-form stories born of such extended inquiries.
Enterprising journalists of this near-extinct ilk are, perhaps fortunately for us, being forced to turn elsewhere to flex their investigative writing muscle. One example: former newspaper reporter Fred Williams, who went deep cover as a collection agency employee to get the dirt and then spill it in his new book, "Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices."
As a result, this very timely tome reads as part action plan (or, more accurately, reaction plan), part memoir, and all gritty and real when it comes to illuminating what happens inside America's collection agencies.
Right from the introduction, Williams begins to impress upon readers exactly how heartless and even willing to disobey the law he found the collection agencies he worked in to be, as he retells the story of a collection call he once made to the widower of the debtor.
The man's wife, Williams was told, died after years of drug abuse. "All that money you're looking for ... (she) put it up her nose," the man said.
After listening to the man's now-motherless children in the background, Williams marked the account deceased in accordance with that state's law, under which the widower was not responsible for his wife's bills, only to be told by a co-worker, "Someone's going to get it out of them, only it won't be you. If you don't call them, I will."
In the context of educating readers about how to fight back against collectors gone wild, these heinous stories don't ring in the vein of the standard us vs. them -- they're evil-type moans and groans.
They serve to shake emotional debtors into the reality that their adversaries, collectors, are in this for one reason only: to collect as much money as possible from whomever they can, however they can.
Their business is not about reason, logic, empathy or sympathy. Given the stories Williams cites of the many collection agencies who are fined hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars for violating fair debt collection statutes, the business of collections apparently is not always about collecting what they can within the guidelines stated by law.
With this understanding girding their telephonic loins, Williams proceeds to provide readers with insights and action items to defend themselves from collectors.
"Fight Back" is divided into two parts: Part I is devoted to exposing various debt collection secrets -- literal insider secrets Williams culled during his training and experience inside collection agencies.
This part serves as a briefing to consumers about the collection agencies' modus operandi. Each indivdual secret, from "Anger Can Be Power" to "The Golden Rule: Money Today," offers a story, a real-life example that illustrates the key tenets of how agencies operate -- and also offers a glimpse past the bogus stories that collectors may tell debtors in an effort to guilt, threaten, scare, lie or humiliate them into helping them meet their targets.
Each of these mini-chapters (18 in all) closes with an action item for debtors who are facing the particular collection tactic exposed in the chapter, and also refers them to more detailed solutions in Part II of "Fight Back."
Part II covers nothing but mechanisms and strategies for coping with unfair debt collection tactics. Here, Williams provides a very user-friendly action guide for consumers at every phase of the debt-collection lifestyle.
Whether you're looking to stop collectors from calling, file a complaint against them with a regulatory agency or to actually negotiate a debt settlement, the book provides the information debtors need.
Williams doesn't stop where many books do, by simply quoting from the various legal debt-collection guidelines, although that material is in "Fight Back."
He offers readers scripts in point-counterpoint format for how to engage in conversation with collectors, rebut their overly aggressive tactics, and still arrive at the desired aim of the conversation in the first place.
Dealing with collectors is not fun -- and no book will ever make it so. But with so many Americans forgoing credit card payments to keep up with mortgage payments and finding themselves in collection situations for any number of other reasons, if you find yourself in this situation, it would behoove you to have Fight Back as a weapon in your self-protection arsenal.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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