Collect At Any Cost: Ravage the Poorest

‘Distressed Consumer Debt’ Industry Creates Distress and Homelessness

This saga is not limited to just one family that I know. Maybe you know someone also being ravaged. Time to rein in the debt collectors!

Holidays are fun for some. For others, experiencing indescribable crises, these celebrations rub salt in their wounds. Photo by Diane Nilan

I’ve been journeying with this family for years. Their reality is painful for me to consider, so I can only imagine it is debilitating for this mom. What’s particularly galling is the impunity enjoyed by this despicable industry.

An Open Letter to Mr. Scumbag:

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Not the holiday decoration anyone wants to see. Photo by Diane Nilan

You’ve ruined whatever peace of mind that Mel, a mother of an 11-year old girl, might hope to have. After more than 5 years in the brutal grips of homelessness, and 2 relatively blissful years in their humble apartment, she and her daughter are, thanks to you, pointed to the streets again.

You (a personal and collective noun for those in the “distressed consumer debt and recovery” industry) have decided to make sure some people have no chance of a life. By virtue of your ability to skillfully manipulate nefarious financial and legal tools, you have pursued this impoverished woman, intimidating her with court summons, garnishing the paycheck she hasn’t even received yet, and ravaging her fragile state of mind.

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An insult to the venerable elephant, this rendition reeks of unbridled wealth and power. Photo by Diane Nilan

Your collection agency, High Performance Collections, buys old unpaid debts for pennies on the dollar from companies that have written off the debt, and in most cases received tax considerations for their “losses.” You then ruthlessly track down these debtors and hound them within an inch of their vulnerable lives until they give you what you want — the debt repaid (fair enough) and an outrageous pile of fees (oppressive, to say the least).

Reviewing complaints and public comments about your business, it confirms what my friend has shared with me — your cold, calculating methods are based solely on profit, despite the consequences to your debtor.

In the case of Mel, who endured over 5 years as a desperate homeless mother, she’s petrified that she and her daughter will lose what little they have and return to the hellish existence of homelessness in a state with negligible resources to help.

Aside from being outraged at the debt collection “industry” and the unabashed methods you use to squeeze blood from turnips — in this case, negligible debt from years ago — I’ve discovered what rights a consumer has. Basically none.

It’s fairly easy to understand how distressed debt collection has become a darling of the financial world. “The company purchases portfolios of defaulted consumer receivables at deep discounts to face value, as well as manages them by working with individuals as they repay their obligations and works toward financial recovery.” Hogwash!

*Since she couldn’t pay the $900 you demanded immediately at court, she gets 3 payments to wipe out the debt which is accruing a hefty 25% interest fees plus hundreds in court costs.

Before going to court, Mel desperately inquired about legal help to escape your ruthless clutches. Not surprising, the legal services advocacy agency wasn’t able to get involved.

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Families in crisis seem to be the target of unscrupulous debt collectors, no matter that these predators are creating and perpetuating homelessness. Photo by Diane Nilan

Before her court date, you managed to garnish the $900 she hadn’t even received from her new job. That money was targeted for things like rent, utilities, school necessities for her daughter, car insurance and gas. She has no other money, nor does she have anyone to turn to for help. You’ve virtually locked her out of her bank account, which I used to send her a few bucks to keep her head above water. Any money in that account, by court order, is now yours.

Assuming a person can get food assistance from a local pantry (limited in quantity, quality and variety), what happens when someone can’t pay rent, utilities, insurance, or they lack money for essentials like gas and medicine?

From my 30+ years of working with families and individuals in homeless situations, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen — they become homeless. Again. Which is the worst form of homelessness.

ProPublica offers a plethora of solutions to this largely unregulated (the last inadequate federal law to limit garnishments passed in 1968) industry. Among them,

“Overhauling that law to set a more reasonable limit on wage seizures (now at 25 percent of after-tax income) and setting some limit (there’s currently none) on bank account garnishments would make a big difference.”

Now Mel, and countless parents in her same dilemma, are figuring out that their children are totally screwed when it comes to things like gifts under the Christmas tree, not to mention the less exciting essentials. Mel labeled you “Mr. Scumbag.” She’s being kind.

Allow me the opportunity to speculate on why you, Mr. Scumbag, and others like you engage in this “distressed consumer debt and recovery” industry. Obviously it’s for the money. Were you a child who experienced deprivation because your parents were poor? Did you have a Gone With the Wind Scarlett O’Hara experience, where she holds up a clump of dirt and proclaims, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again”?

You’re the one to be pitied. Lack of human decency is far worse than abject poverty.

*Update (11/21/18): As I was polishing the above piece, I got word that the Feds have yanked the $900 Mel earned from her part time job and have applied this to her delinquent student loan. I cannot grasp the depravity of this! I cannot believe that this is even allowed, per the NoLo website,

“If you have more than one garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25%. For example, if the federal government is garnishing 15% of your income to repay defaulted student loans and your employer receives a second wage garnishment order, the employer can only take another 10% of your income to send to the second creditor.”

Viable suggestions welcomed!

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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