The filing of the Bartmann bill comes following a wave of scandals that illustrate the need for reform in the debt collection and debt buyer industries. Across the country, state legislatures and state attorneys general are cracking down on collection agencies who trick consumers into paying debt that is past the statute of limitation and who submit fraudulent documentation to support lawsuits against consumers.
The explosive grown of debt buyers, companies that purchase charged-off debt from banks, has led to increasingly more aggressive strategies on the part of these companies. As consumers struggle to pay ever-mounting credit card bills during these hard times, complaints against collectors have soared. In 2010, more than 50,000 people contacted the FTC to complain about harassment. An additional 18,000 reported that a collector used obscene or otherwise abusive language and more than 4,000 consumers said a collector threatened them with violence.
The recommendations of Bartmann’s proposed legislation will serve as a model for other states to reform debt buyer and debt collection laws and would curb abusive and harassing practices. The 10-point model outlines critical reform ideas, including:
1. Establish a program for state supervision and licensing of debt buyers and employees.
2. Ban collection of “zombie debt” — debt that has passed the statute of limitation.
3. Require debt buyers to provide proof of the debt before filing litigation.
4. Require debt buyers to prove that consumers receive notice of litigation.
5. Require that debt buyers provide proof of the debt to consumers upon demand.
6. Authorize consumers to record phone calls from debt collectors.
7. Authorize the Attorney General to impose fines and prosecute violators.
8. Increase the penalties for debt buyers and debt collectors who violate the law.
9. Discourage the filing of frivolous lawsuits by awarding costs to the prevailing party.
10. Require that debt buyers, when transferring a debt, transfers all information about the consumer.
The bill honors Bartmann’s father, Louie, a janitor with a sixth-grade education who struggled to raise eight children. Bartmann worked odd jobs in addition to his full-time job. His long hours led to a prolonged illness that stopped him from working. Faced with mounting medical bills, Louie Bartmann declared bankruptcy; yet he continued to be threatened by collectors who attacked his credibility and character. The litany of calls eventually wore Bartmann down, and after one particularly abusive call, he died from a massive heart attack.
“My father believed people should pay their bills which he himself tried valiantly to do,” says his son, Bill Bartmann, now President and CEO of CFS II, a debt-collection agency. “He believed debt collectors should be civil when attempting to collect the money owed to them. I advocated for the Bartmann Act to honor my father and his plight, and help prevent more people from becoming victims of criminal collectors.”
Bartmann launched a 50-state campaign, “Stop These Criminals,” nearly one year ago. The initiative is intended to reform the debt-collection industry and has proven successful, spurring the adoption of new regulatory law in Oklahoma. Since the legislation’s passage there in May, Bartmann has presented his recommendations for reducing debt collection abuse to more than two dozen state Attorneys General, members of Congress, and federal consumer protection agencies.
“Millions of consumers are contacted by debt collection agencies every year, and too many of those Americans are abused and treated with disrespect,” explains Bartmann, a best-selling author who also wrote “Out of Control,” that exposed widespread criminal activity in the collections industry.
In the 1990s, Bartmann built CFS, the world’s largest debt collection agency, and became recognized as a national authority on fair debt collections practices. In fact, Inc. magazine credited CFS with “remaking one of the ugliest industries” due to the zero-abuse policy Bartmann demanded of his staff. His firm helped 4.5 million consumers resolve over $15 billion in credit card debt, without initiating a single lawsuit.
“I am indebted to Gary Stanislawski who is championing the bill in the state senate,” says Bartmann. “I intend to continue my battle with the $40 billion collection industry. My goal is to shine as much light as possible on those debt buyers who insist on fraudulent and illegal behavior and end its rampant corruption.”
The Oklahoma AARP has endorsed the Bartmann Bill and will be promoting the endorsement to their 200,000 members across Oklahoma.
Consumers interested in supporting the Bartmann Ethical Debt Collection Practices Act can visit Bartmann’s Facebook page or sign an online petition at www.StopTheseCriminals.com.
About Bill Bartmann:
The Harvard Business School published a case study on Bill Bartmann’s collection business, CFS. He is a best-selling author and was named national “Entrepreneur of the Year” by NASDAQ and the Kauffman Foundation.
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