Submission Number: 00026
Received: 11/8/2010 1:54:50 PM
Commenter: Jerome Lamet
Organization: Jerome S. Lamet, Ltd. d/b/a Debt Counsel for Seniors and the Disabled
Agency: Federal Trade Commission
Initiative: Statement of Policy Regarding Communications in Connection with Collection of a Decedent’s Debt; Project No. P104806
Attachments: No Attachments
RE: Deceased Debt Collection Policy Statement
To Whom it May Concern:
We are commenting on the FTC’s “Statement of Policy Regarding Communications in Collection of a Decedent’s Debt.” Since 1998, our law firm has represented 14,000 seniors and disabled individuals who have been abused and harassed by debt collectors, including debt buyers. We have been successful in protecting our clients from these abuses by enforcing the FDCPA.
The Commission should not issue this Statement for several reasons. First, it is unnecessary and caters to collection agencies and debt buyers. Current probate laws give creditors sufficient protection in that they require notification to creditors that an estate was opened and that the creditors are free to submit claims. Even in small estate resolutions, creditors are either notified that there is an estate, or an affidavit is signed stating that the creditor’s claims are satisfied. It is imperative that in this era of terrorist collecting tactics, creditors are not given expanded opportunities to abuse, deceive, and unfairly collect debts. Section 805(b) is to protect consumers from the abuses of collectors. This proposed Statement would allow a myriad of new opportunities for collectors to harass consumers, and negate the protection that the FDCPA affords. Furthermore, family and friends of recently deceased loved ones are in a very fragile emotional state and are thus more susceptible to abuse by predatory tactics of creditors. If anything, the provisions of the FDCPA that protects friends and family at this time should be strengthened, not weakened.
Additionally, junk debt buyers are unable to prove they own a debt, let alone identify who the original creditor was. Nor can the debtor identify the debt. The debtor’s death is often the first time their loved ones learn the decedent was in debt. It is highly likely the family or friends could inadvertently pay a debt that the decedent did not owe, or pay more than the decedent owed.
Expanding the ability of creditors to send dunning letters several individuals to attempt to identify the estate administrator invades the decedent’s privacy. The reasoning behind section 805(b) is to “prevent[ ] debt collectors from unnecessarily revealing debts to others and thereby inflicting harm to the privacy and reputation of the debtor.” The approval of this Statement would authorize creditors to cast a wide net in their attempts to identify who is responsible for the charge of the estate.
In 2010, our office alone has settled 300 lawsuits against creditors who have violated the FDCPA. By affording creditors and collectors more leeway in collecting debts, the floodgates of litigation will be opened. Collectors will not hesitate to push the limits of the Statement, and many consumers will be victims to the experiment of where the outer bounds of the Statement lie.
This week the heir of a deceased client called our law firm. During the last few months of her life, our client received calls from debt collectors after her debtor-husband died. Though not personally liable for his debts as she did not co-sign for any of the debts, this explanation was ignored by the debt collector and she was continually harassed. The stress of these calls and the loss of her husband and resulted in our client’s early, untimely death. Our now-deceased client’s heirs continue to receive dunning letters from these collectors. Despite their efforts to notify the collectors that their mother died, the letters continue long past her death. This should not be allowed to continue, nor should debt collectors be given more latitude.
Please reconsider allowing debt collectors to contact friends and family upon a debtor’s death.
Jerome S. Lamet, Esq.
Mary Baker, Esq.
Katherine Malis, Esq.