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Arrears in your ear

Know your rights, protect yourself against harassment

Back in my early 20s, I lived with a couple of friends in a basement apartment. None of us were making much money at the time, but we made enough to keep a roof over our head, food in our bellies and beer in our hands.

One of these guys, however, liked to live a lifestyle similar to what he enjoyed under the wings of his reasonably wealthy parents. To accommodate his need for haute couture, fine dining and trying desperately to impress women way out of his league, he ended up with a bunch of consumer debt that he wasn’t in any financial position to pay back.

It wasn’t long before the collection agencies started calling. On one occasion, when my friend was out of the house, a particular collection agent started grilling me on my roommate’s whereabouts, his job status, and how much rent and utilities we were paying.

I was taken aback and when I questioned this agent’s tactics, his already curt manner turned decidedly sour and downright nasty. In fact, the gentleman — and I use the term very loosely — even went so far as to insult my intelligence and that of all Newfoundlanders. 

Rather than engage in a war of words with this particular ignoramus, I simply hung up the phone and later suggested to my roommate that he get his affairs in order.

If I had known then what I know now about collection agencies and their rights when dealing with creditors, I might have pursued the matter.

That particular agent was well within his rights to speak to me, but only to obtain my roommate’s address and phone number. Any questions beyond that are strictly forbidden under regulations contained within the provincial and territorial acts and licenses that govern collection agencies.

While some rules and debtor protection measures differ slightly from one province to the next, there are some general rules you should be aware of to be better informed about your rights when the agencies start calling because the agencies themselves are not required to tell you. Their singular goal is to get you to pay the debt that they’ve taken on from the original lender.

In Canada, collection agencies are not permitted to make charges of threats that are not related to the collection of the debt, nor are they allowed to engage in any form of verbal abuse like I experienced.

Outside of contacting your employer to confirm you’re still gainfully employed, they’re also not allowed to speak with your employer without your written permission nor can they call you, visit you or send any correspondence to your place of employment without obtaining your permission.

These agents are also restricted as to when they can contact you at home or place of work. In Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, for example, they can’t contact you between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., and 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Also in Nova Scotia, the agency is forbidden from contacting you on a Sunday.

Credit Canada, the non-profit charity that provides free credit counselling and debt consolidation services, suggests keeping a notebook handy at all times so you can record information while speaking with the collections agent. It advises recording the name of the agency and agent, their phone number and extension, time and date of the call, the particulars of the debt in question and any other information such as settlement offers, repayment plans or behaviour or tactics that don’t adhere to regulations.

Ultimately, the easiest way to deal with aggressive collection agencies is to not deal with them, i.e. pay your debt off in full. Depending on the dollar amount, that might not be possible for everyone. Collection agencies aren’t required to offer repayment plans, but it can’t hurt to ask and it doesn’t hurt to be ready to make a payment in good faith straight away, but never in cash, as you always want a record of any efforts made to repay. If you go this route, get it in writing and be aware that you aren’t required to pay any additional costs beyond the debt you acquired.

My personal advice for dealing with a creditor is the same as dealing with any obstinate or combative individual; keep your cool and kill them with kindness. If you take the high road, chances are they’ll be inclined to follow suit.

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