KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) - The caller told Diane Muir, "at this point in time you are a person of interest."
Isn't that what police call people wanted in criminal investigations? If that doesn't get your attention, you have to have nerves of steel.
But the caller was not in law enforcement: He was in debt collection. The message left on Muir's voicemail and subsequent calls -- during which she occasionally talked to the collector -- were enough to send her scrambling to find $250 that she didn't have.
She was worried, even though she had no idea if she really owed anyone money.
"I said, 'Who do I owe this money to?' And they came up with some name of somebody I don't even recognize," said Muir.
The message she got appears to be have been scripted. Various online sites show that other people across the country have received the same message.
It's unknown if Muir actually had an old debt or the call hit her voicemail box because the debt collection company called a number for a Diane Muir, hoping to find one who would pay.
Some companies try to collect on bad debts that buy in bulk from the companies that have written it off. And they may not contact the person who actually owes the debt.
The phone message got through to Muir at first.
"I was scared," she said. "The words they're speaking sound legal."
And that's no accident, according to the West Michigan Better Business Bureau's Phil Catlett.
"They were implying that some sort of legal action might be taken if they did not respond," he said.
The debt collector said he was "calling in regard to allegations that are being filed out of my office attached to your Social Security number." The message continued, "If I don't hear back from yourself or some type of representing counsel, I will have no choice but to file this out as willful evasion and proceed in favor of my client."
Catlett says legal or authoritative language has been used for a long time as a kind of sales technique. In this case, it's selling fear because it sounds like the company is ready to come after you in court.
But Catlett says "that is a direct violation of the laws unless they truly have something in order to file legal action with."
Nobody has sued Diane Muir despite the repeated calls dating back to August 2012.
"Thank you and please govern yourself accordingly," the debt collector admonished at the end of the initial message.
After thinking about it, Muir governed herself by cutting off contact with the collection company and handing over the recording to Target 8.
She could have done a number of other things that federal law allows. She could have demanded in writing within 30 days of the first call that the debt collector prove in writing that she owes the money.
The law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which lists on its website the protections it gives consumers. The Michigan Attorney General's office also has information on its website about debt collection.
The law says debt collectors cannot bully or threaten. They can't lie to you. They can't threaten to sue you if they don't have a case. They have to stop calling you if you tell them in writing to stop.
In this case, the caller on Muir's voicemail said he represented Gregory Adams & Associates, a Florida debt collection company with a "D" rating from the BBB.
The BBB identified a "pattern of complaints from consumers alleging...threatening or rude debt collection calls. Some of these consumers have stated the debt in question was not their own. Consumers further claim that despite asking the company to stop contacting them, Gregory Adams & Associates continues to call."
In January, the BBB said, it heard from the company that it "monitors every employee closely." The company said it "stresses to their employees to stay professional and says to have terminated a few individuals for this issue."
Target 8 investigators faxed questions to the company and left phone messages, but received no response.
Target 8 also found the company CEO has been chased for bad debts and is currently paying off a personal bankruptcy settlement.
Nothing was found on the FTC website about Gregory Adams & Associates.
But the FTC in the last year has reported judgments of $35 million against three debt collection companies and six individuals for abusive practices including threatening to kill people's pets if they didn't pay. It also went after three companies for trying to scam money out of people who didn't owe anything at all.
In Kentwood, Diane Muir has cut off contact with the debt collector who was chasing her and says she is "very, very angry."
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