There is no more fitting recession-era story than a consumer fighting back against debt collectors.
Our sister paper the Dallas Observer has a fantastic cover story about Craig Cunningham ("Better Off Deadbeat"). A man America's debt collectors call a terrorist. But who's served as inspiration to some in the Emerald City.
During the boom years of the real estate market, Cunningham went looking for easy money. When the bubble burst he was $100,000 in credit card debt. But he's not paying it back. Instead he's going after those who wish to take it.
Most defaulters curl fetal at a collection agency phone call. Cunningham, a West Point grad, sees them as an opportunity: recording and baiting collectors to violate the arcane financial laws that govern the odd little interactions between debtor and debtee.
When they cross the line he sues. (So far he's won $20,000.) And he's inspiring others to do the same.
Lawsuits against debt collectors are up 50 percent. And some in our area are joining in.
Another Debtorboards user is 29-year-old Daniel Smith, who lives with his fiancé outside of Seattle, Washington. Early in 2009, he tried to obtain financing for a home, but was turned down by Bank of America. He soon discovered that an old girlfriend had put his name on her bank account before she fell into massive debt. He wrote angry letters to the bank, but nothing changed. He sat down at his computer and typed in "Bank of America" and "Fair Debt Collection Act" and soon landed on Debtorboards. "I spent hours upon hours upon hours on there," Smith says. "The big epiphany is I'm a little guy but I've got a voice and I'm going to use it."
Like Cunningham, Smith now armed himself with voice recorders and began keeping meticulous financial files. His file cabinet grew quickly. "I mean there's nothing I don't document now and that's probably the best thing a consumer can do."
Smith is an Army vet, an EMT, and a project manager for a construction company. He doesn't advocate stiffing the original creditor on the bill. In fact, Smith will often pay the original creditor, but still go after the violating collection agency.
"The standard line from collection agencies is always, 'Oh, gosh, no, we never violate.'...For the most part, the reality of it is you can sit down and find violation in almost every collection attempt made in America."
Even if your heart doesn't skip a beat every time the phone rings, the full story is well worth your time. Go read it.