Someone must have slandered me.
One morning, without having done anything truly wrong, I received a phone call from a company named Allied Interstate. This was the beginning of a lengthy, agonizing process, where I nearly became a victim of what I'll generously describe as one of the most widespread and effective telephone swindles in America.
Allied Interstate is what's known as a collection agency. These companies claim to perform a valuable service for our credit-based economy by tracking down delinquent loans and persuading deadbeat debtors to pay up. On paper, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits collectors from making fraudulent statements or threatening and harassing their prey, the people who owe these unpaid debts. In reality, most collection agencies are thugs armed with call centers.
The worst part is that they can and do come after anybody. This isn't legal and the companies will deny it, but if you look at the volume of successful class-action lawsuits against Allied Interstate and other collectors, you can see that it happens all the time. Even if you have immaculate credit and don't owe anyone a dime, you could still be targeted.
The experience is not pleasant. For the last three months, ever since the first call, I've been getting anywhere from three to nine phone calls a day from this company, all with prerecorded messages.
The law says they can only call you three times a day, but the way these collection agencies are set up, individual collectors (the official job title is agent) have huge incentives to break it. One of the agents I spoke to made a veiled threat to take me to court, and another said that he could damage my credit score if I didn't repay my debt (this debt was either someone else's or nonexistent, but we'll get to that in a minute).