Telephone calls at inconvenient times, harassment, intimidation, threats
this is what comes to many people’s minds when the subject of collection agency practices is raised. Are there still collection agencies that act in this way today? The interviews that we carried out with 23 consumers subject to collection and with those around them in the context of their work show that the answer is yes. The interviews that we carried out, both with consumers and with specialists, also permitted us to observe the impasse in which people faced with a collection agency find themselves. Feeling they are caught in a trap, consumers (often low income) experience negative emotions, stress, or even depression. Furthermore, the arrival of a collection agent in their life is only the latest of their misfortunes. They are at one of the most difficult moments of their lives when someone arrives, demanding, sometimes in a loud, aggressive voice, a sum of money that they can not afford to pay. How could things be improved? In searching for answers, we went over the laws of three Canadian provinces and the Harmonized List of Prohibited Collection Practices that the provinces have undertaken to respect. We noted that, although certain rules should be modified in order to adapt to today’s circumstances, the laws and regulations generally offer consumers good protection. Their application, however, sometimes leaves something to be desired. We also looked at the American law. We observed that the law in the U.S. is more detailed than the three Quebec laws studied, particularly with regard to the description of harassing behaviour, false and misleading representation and unfair practices. In our view, this law could be used as model to improve provincial laws or help to interpret them.
It would be a good thing if debt collectors could follow the law to the letter. It would be even better if they followed the rules that they themselves developed. In order to find out about the codes of conduct dictated by collection agencies themselves, we carefully went through four codes of ethics from Quebec, Ontario, the United States and Belgium respectively.
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OCA Funded ResearchThis research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.
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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database