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Study finds medical debt collectors are often wrong

Every year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency tasked with protecting Americans from "unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices," fields thousands of complaints about aggressive -- and frequently unlawful -- debt collection activities.

While most people wouldn't think much information could be gleaned from this rather remarkable repository of consumer complaints outside of identifying problem firms, this is far from the case. Indeed, it actually serves as a veritable treasure trove of information, revealing trends, and providing insight into the more pernicious practices of debt collectors.

By way of example, consider a recently published study by the advocacy group U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- otherwise known as US PIRG -- which set out to learn more about the recent emergence of dubious collection activities in connection with medical debt.

After examining over 17,000 complaints over more than three years, the researchers found that medical debt was the second-leading cause of grievances filed with the CFPB, trailing only credit cards. Even more surprising, they found that over 60 percent of the consumers who filed complaints about medical debt collectors indicated that they owed no money.

Breaking the numbers down, the US PIRG study found that the consumers who said they had no medical debt fell into one of three categories:

  • Those who said the medical debt being sought by collectors was never owed
  • Those who said the medical debt being sought by collectors was already paid off or discharged via bankruptcy
  • Those who said the medical debt being sought by collectors was never verified as debt he or she actually owed

As eye opening and discouraging as this finding is, consumers can take comfort in the fact that the CFPB has taken steps in recent years to crack down on the aggressive medical debt collectors, holding them accountable under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Furthermore, those who are contacted about a medical debt can take steps to protect themselves, including confirming the identity of the debt collector, asking for a verification letter showing they actually owe the money, keeping detailed notes of any conversations and, of course, filing a complaint with the CFPB.

If you have been subjected to relentless creditor harassment, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can enforce your rights and bring end this aggravation to an end.  

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