Debt Collectors Deputized by District Attorneys

It’s not surprising that debt collectors are always trying to figure out new ways to cloak themselves with the appearance of authority. That’s why the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act doesn’t allow debt collectors to pretend to be affiliated with the government:

The false representation or implication that the debt collector is vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with the United States or any State, including the use of any badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof.

Of course, that’s not very effective when the government — in the form of prosecutors — essentially deputizes debt collectors to send collection letters on official letterhead. It’s attractive for the district attorneys involved. They get to farm out bad check collection, putting it out of sight and out of mind, while raking in a profit.

Prosecutors’ job is to enforce the law. One important part of that job is exercising some discretion over who to prosecute. That’s especially important in bad check cases. People bounce checks all the time, usually unintentionally. That doesn’t make them crimes. So a prosecutor’s job is to sort out the crimes from the accidents. Under the new arrangement, everybody gets contacted by a debt collector, which then demands even more money for a budgeting class — the profit from which goes into the collector’s pocket.

But, as Jeff Sovern points out at Consumer Law & Policy, the collectors are walking a thin line, at best. Not to mention what has to be horrible PR for the district attorneys involved, who should be doing their jobs, not farming out their discretion — and their letterhead — to debt collectors.