These days, debt collectors are putting some people through so much pain that it's landing them in the hospital.
Anne Sessions of Lane County, Oregon is suing Wells Fargo after one of its debt collectors reported to police that that the 85-year-old was threatening suicide, a claim she maintains was false, The Oregonian reports. After hitting financial trouble, Sessions says she arranged a payment plan for her credit card debt with Wells Fargo last year, but just days later she allegedly received a call from a debt collector who badgered her with a "contemptous tone," according to the lawsuit.
Sessions told the collector that such abuse may cause other customers to take their own lives, which allegedly prompted a line of questioning that included the collector asking Sessions: "But...if you did [commit suicide], how would you do it - hurt yourself?" Courthouse News reports.
Within a half hour police arrived at Sessions' door and forcibly took her to the hospital. She was released hours later after hospital staff said they "strongly" believed Sessions was not a threat to herself or others, ABC News reports. But the incident left Sessions stuck with a hospital bill worth $1,055, for which she is seeking compensation, as well as $250,000 in punitive damages.
Sessions' suit may involve one of the more puzzling instances of debt collector abuse recently, but harassment of its kind is far from uncommon. Complaints filed to the Federal Trade Commission about debt collectors rose to 140,036 in 2010, up from 119,609 in 2009. The boost may be explained in part by the industry's growth in a troubled economy that's caused many Americans to delay debt payments.
Over the next three years, the debt collection industry is expected to expand by 26 percent.
Indeed, all the negative reports -- collection agencies are responsible for the most complaints to the FTC of any industry -- may be beginning to take a toll. The FTC has begun cracking down on illegal debt collecting tactics, including repeated calls to the debtors, failure to notify consumers in writing of their rights, misrepresenting the debt in question as well as using profanity or threats.
Last month it settled with Michigan-based debt collection company Asset Acceptance for $2.5 million on charges of misconduct. It also took action against two California-based collection agencies last year, one for attempting to collect debts that didn't exist and the other for threatening to kill debtors pets and desecrate the bodies of deceased family members.