I don't know the woman debt collectors think is me but that doesn't stop them calling. Now, thankfully, there is a federal effort to tackle this growing problem.
© Scott Serio/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Some zombies come with corporate name tags.
Her name is Kathryn.
Every few weeks, I'll answer the phone, and someone will want to talk to her. In fact, whoever is on the other end of the line will insist
on talking to her. They assume that I am her, even when I inform her that I'm not and that I don't know who she is. They threaten that if I don't bring her to the phone, I'll face "consequences". Sometimes I'll get two phone calls a day, every day of the week.
These debt collectors want Kathryn to repay some student loans, and every time her file is sold to a new agency, my phone number is transferred along with it - and I have to begin convincing a new bunch of folks that this isn't the way to find her.
Halloween may be over, but the world of zombie debt is a year-round horror show. Aggressive collectors buy credit card accounts from original lenders like Chase or Bank of America that have been written off as in default and impossible to collect on. Having paid only pennies for every dollar owed to acquire these accounts, the new collectors have a big financial incentive to collect the maximum they can - it's not about recouping money but about seeing how much they can make. Getting someone to agree to pay $1 for every $10 of debt owed could mean a 100% return.
Small wonder that a number of players in this space resort to abusive practices, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last week a new nationwide initiative involving not only 47 attorneys general and many state regulatory agencies but also numerous local bodies and even a Canadian provincial regulatory.
Operation Collection Protection will try to halt the industry's worst practices - and it's needed, says Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the FTC.
"We receive more complaints about this industry than any other," she told a press conference last Thursday, noting that debt collectors make a billion contacts a year with consumers. "The majority [of those] are legal. Many are not."