Diane Dimond: Americans are in debt and vultures are circling around (copy) | Winchester Star
Americans are now in more debt than at any time in our country’s history. Growing debts on overdue mortgage payments, student loans and medical bills are particularly acute. In fact, medical debt is one of the most frequently mentioned causes of personal bankruptcy in the United States, and the situation has only worsened during the pandemic.
So, is it any wonder that criminal minds turn to scams to exploit those who are suffering from financial problems?
“Don’t hang up,” the automated call voice instructed sternly. “Your case has been referred to law enforcement for non-payment. An arrest warrant has been issued against you.”
Millions of people have received these pre-recorded bogus phone calls designed to keep the recipient online to see what the threat is. Between our house and our cell phones, my husband and I get at least one every two days, even though we joined the Federal Trade Commission Do Not Call Register in 2003.
Many are from an “auto-dialed call”. It is the one that is placed by an automated outgoing calling system that dials the phone numbers until it detects a connection. After saying “Hello …” you hear momentary silence as the system quickly transmits the call to a live person. This technology has sophisticated internal metrics that predict exactly the right time to place a call to coincide with the availability of one of their agents.
Legitimate collection agencies also use these outbound dialing strategies, and if you owe money, you’ll have to pay it back. But whether the caller is a real collector or a con artist, there are laws that these callers must follow.
The Consumer Telephone Protection Act 2015 said that any debt collector initiating an appeal through an automatic dialing system was subject to strict laws governing what they could and could not do. Unfortunately, the law was struck down by the Federal Court because it went too far in 2018.
Today, debtors still enjoy protection under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten to arrest you, pretend to work for a government agency, try to collect a debt you don’t actually owe, continue to harass you or publicly shame you by posting your name. Violators can be fined up to $ 500 per illegal call. If this happens to you, write down the time and number that called you, ask for their company information, and report it to your state’s attorney general’s office.
The Federal Communications Commission says it receives more consumer complaints about robocalls than anything else, and has imposed hundreds of millions of dollars in fines against illegal callers. In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act. This law sets fines of up to $ 10,000 per illegal call. It is also forcing communications companies like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T to implement technology to help consumers identify spam calls using fake numbers.
All of those safeguards are in place, but I still get – and I’m sure you get – these irritating and sometimes scary phone calls on a regular basis. Why can’t they just be arrested? FTC and FCC supposed to be on case, phone operators pledge to help, federal law aims to stop the practice, and state attorney general offices say they are “on the front lines to enforce Do Not Call Laws “. Ah good?
We’re a nation of smart people, so why can’t we find a way to stop the harassment of unscrupulous debt collectors, criminals out to scam Americans and all those annoying telemarketers?
This problem will not go away. Experts estimate that by the end of this year, we will have suffered over 51 billion of these miserable interruptions. The imposition of fines has not stopped the appeals, so how about imposing a meaningful prison sentence on the worst offenders?
And although I am not a technological brain, it seems to me that these calls could not take place without access to a telephone line. Shouldn’t all efforts be focused on the obvious front-line solution of denying phone access to questionable characters?
At a time when Americans are struggling to recover from the financial and emotional hardships of the pandemic, the last thing they need is for this illegal, distressing and universally undesirable practice to continue. Is anyone in Washington listening?