Daily Alert

10 July 2008

Give Credit to a Dog

$142 Collection Bill Sent To Couple's Dog - KCRA

70,000 Consumers Complained About Debt Collectors In '06

POSTED: 9:23 pm PDT July 9, 2008
UPDATED: 11:39 pm PDT July 9, 200

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- More than 70,000 consumers complained about third-party debt collectors in 2007, but one Sacramento couple said they have good reason to bark about the bill they received.

Steve Fanelli received a bill from AFNI collections claiming an Andy Fanelli owes Verizon Online $142.34.

And although Steve Fanelli does indeed live with an Andy Fanelli, there is a small, furry problem with the bill.

Andy Fanelli is Steve Fanelli's dog.

"The point is that Andy has never had a Verizon account. We were just curious why this showed up," Steve Fanelli said.

After some "dogged" detective work by Call 3 Problem Solvers, Verizon said the debt is owed by a guy on the East Coast named Andy Fanelli.

"Just because there's an Andy Fanelli back east doesn't mean you send a letter to an Andy Fanelli in California," dog owner Shawn Donovan said. "There has to be something else to connect it."

Andy Fanelli, who is Steve Fanelli's and Donovan's Lhasa Apso, has its own American Express card that Donovan got when it was offered for "family members."

"It's an active card. From time to time I take my girlfriend's to lunch on Andy," Donovan said.

Consumers have complained about AFNI online and to the Illinois Attorney General, claiming AFNI tries to collect outdated or incorrect billing.

AFNI told Problem Solvers that it is a large company and diligent about debt verification.

The company said it thinks the problem with the Fanelli's happened because of the American Express Card.

Verizon Online cancelled Andy's debt, which he just shook off.

While this seems like a just fluff or maybe matted fur story for laughs there is a serious issue to consider. It is has been my observation working in an environment where credit and collection issues are a daily concern that this story underscores a problem many Americans face. No, pets are not routinely contacted by third party debt collectors (3PDCs). But every day plenty of Americans are contacted by mail or telephone by 3PDCs on a phishing expedition who treat these consumers as if they were dead beats. Unexpecting consumers have payment demands thrown at them for no better reason than they share the same or similar name to someone who indeed owes money on an account.

The debt collectors are merely skip tracing a name, developing lists of names of possible matches based upon name commonality, location and possibly credit report pulls and making collection calls. Some of these attempts to collect will be met head-on and the collector will move to the next consumer. However, far too often, the consumer receiving the collection will pay on an account in debt which is not their own due to fear or being unaware they can dispute the collection. 3PDCs do not make it a practice by and large to turn down payment on an account even if they have a doubt as to the authenticity of the contact they have made.

In other cases, the collection account will make its way to a credit report, sometimes because the 3PDC has presumed they contacted the correct consumer even though the consumer was not actually spoken with and never corresponded with the 3PDC. Sometimes, it is the credit bureau's mistake in failing to match the data to the correct consumer.

Another way an unsuspecting consumer can lose out is to a greedy mortgage broker (imagine that) telling a consumer, "we can wrap the debt into what you borrow" or insisting that the consumer pay the debt even if it is not there responsibility solely to quickly get a loan approved. This is doing a terrible dis-service to the consumer. Once a payment is made on an account, the 3PDC or creditor has every right to presume the correct consumer, that is the correct debtor is paying on a defaulted account. That credit information becomes attached to the credit file of the wrong consumer for at least 7 years, reflected as a paid collection.

Worst of all is the fear placed upon the elderly when they receive these phishing collection attempts. Afraid of losing independence, of looking bad, being sued or receiving a court judgment, often many elderly pay without a fight. This is essentially elder abuse and should be treated as such.

The collection world does have some decent people who conscientiously do there job to support an economy based upon credit and confidence in alternative payment vehicles (credit cards, checks, etc). Far too many 3PDCs though engage in reprehensible tactics which encroach upon and slip over permissible practice as laid out in the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).

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