Getting into debt can be a frustrating thing. But even if you owe money, debt collectors must abide by the law when collecting it.
A disabled woman claims she was harassed by a debt collector who appears to have broken just about every rule designed to protect borrowers.
Betty Ann Stueven has a medical condition that requires her to use a breathing tube in her throat to get oxygen. Stueven lives on Social Security disability benefits. But those benefits don't stretch quite far enough to cover her expenses, so she turned to online loans to get money.
"I'd get farther and farther and farther in the debt hole and I'd take out more loans," Stueven said.
She says some of her creditors accepted a money order payment. But not one debt collector.
"They told me they were going to sue me for bank fraud," Stueven said.
Stueven agreed to let the collector take half of that $610 debt they told her she owed from her Supplemental Security Income benefits because she was scared.
"They told you they were going to put you in jail?" Angela asked. "So I was scared, this Coastal company and I didn't want them to put me in jail," Stueven said.
I called the company to ask about their tactics.
"My name is Angela Kennecke and I'm a Consumer Reporter in Sioux Falls South Dakota and I'm recording this conversation," Angela said.
Someone who identified himself as Jeffrey Thomas told me that Coastal Litigation was located in Phoenix.
"So, you're a law firm?" Angela asked. "Yes ma'am," Thomas said.
And what about the accusation that Stueven had committed a crime and the threat of being thrown in jail?
Angela: Did you tell Betty Ann that she was going to be charged with bank fraud and go to jail?
Thomas: That was not a threat. That indeed was a fact. She is actually being pursued for an attempt to defraud a financial institution, yes, ma’am that’s correct.
Debt collectors are prohibited by law from telling someone they will be arrested if they don't pay their debt.
As I continued to question the debt collector, he then told me Stueven wouldn't go to jail and wanted me to tell him who I was again.
"Are you pursuing, what civil charges?" Angela asked.
"I'm sorry, who are you ma'am?” Thomas asked.
"My name is Angela Kennecke, I'm a reporter in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” Angela said.
“Ok have a nice day ma'am.” Thomas said.
"Sir?" Angela said to the sound of a dial tone.
"They're just dialing for dollars, Angela. I feel these guys have clearly stepped out of the bounds of the Fair Debt Collections practices act, that clearly lays out you cannot threaten anybody. That you need to give then notification in writing if it's requested," Jessie Schmidt of the Better Business Bureau said.
And even though Stueven paid $300, she still has no idea which debt was owed.
"They wouldn't send me any information on what I owed or what it was from," Stueven said.
It also caused her financial hardship and it put her under a lot of stress.
"I get nervous and my stomach hurts and it's in knots all the time," Stueven said.
If you're ever the victim of illegal practices by a debt collector, contact the South Dakota Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission. You have the right to sue a collector who breaks the law and they could be ordered to pay damages.