How to deal with debt collectors’ dirty tricks

A company called Publishers International sent out a particularly deceptive collection letter claiming that the recipient owed $119.95 on a magazine purchase.

“The amount charged was than [sic] returned by your bank as a disputed charge on your behalf,” the letter said, and it offered the last four digits of a credit card.  “If the amount is not paid in full 10 days from the date of this letter we will be forced to serve you with a summons including attorney fees. We will also report it to the IRS as earned income to you. Attorney fees included are $1,500.00 minimum. Avoid this by sending your check in full dated 10 days from the date of this letter.”

The letter was signed Mark Weinstein, in-house counsel for Publishers International.

When they got the letter the recipients checked their credit card bill and found a paid charge for $119.95 to Publishers International, so they decided to ignore the letter. Their reward was a second letter, from Umbrella Recovery Team, which appeared to be a collections agency. The letter demanded the payment and threatened reporting the debt to the IRS.

“Should you refuse to pay this we will attempt to claim the funds and any fees back in a U.S. Court of law,” the letter said. “Should payment not be made in 10 days we will add an additional fee of $153.55.”

“Please, for your sake, pay this bill or contact us immediately to set up some type of monthly installment payment plan,” the letter said.

After the “Umbrella Recovery Team” signature, it said: “Please make all check or money orders payable to Publishers International.”

It also said: “WARNING: A conviction of a bounced credit card or check payment is classified as larceny with a potential sentence of up to five (5) years in prison. SEND PAYMENT IMMEDIATELY!”

There appear to be several violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ( stated or implied in that letter, but in this entry we’re more interested in how to deal with such inappropriate and possibly illegal collection efforts from a collection agency.

The way to deal with such inappropriate debt collection letters – or really any communication from a debt collector – is to send them a “Cease and Desist” letter, Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.  Here is the text you can use.  Pick the appropriate ending.   Do not deal with debt collectors.  Deal only with the original creditor. We have more on that here:

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