Debt collection agencies; what are your rights?

In this uncertain economy, millions of Americans are deep in debt.  Some of them have been contacted by collections agencies.  As the 2NEWS Investigators found, it is important to know your rights.

Investigators captured video of Timothy Arent and his accomplice leaving a post office where those investigators say the group just picked up checks from people who believed they were paying off a debt.

Postal Inspectors started tracking the men for their suspected role in an elaborate debt collection scheme that targeted victims like Chris and Erin.

Chris says,  "One day I was at school… and I got a call on my cell phone from a police officer who said he had a bench warrant for my arrest, if I didn't call a certain law firm within the hour to pay an unpaid debt."

The couple called that law firm, which told them they needed to pay off a $4500 debt immediately or Chris would be arrested.

"I didn't want an officer showing up at my work or my home… and I wanted to take care of it as quickly as possible. It wasn't fully sinking that this was a trick or a trap.  I gave them my bank information, which I should never have done."

Erin says,  "It was that fear and intimidation to come and take him away from his school, family, and children that caused him to act in a manner he never would have before."

Investigators say Arent illegally obtained lists of people who had recently paid off debt.  Then, they say, he called them and bullied them into believing they owed even more.

U.S. Postal Inspector Shelley Carosella says, "They had paid their bills and they were targeted because they had demonstrated the ability to pay."

Postal Inspectors arrested Arent and say they found how he was spending the victims money.

Carosella says, "Found many luxury items inside. He lived in a mansion and it was reminiscent of a museum, he had paintings, tiffany lamp, he had grand piano, grandfather clocks, the furnishings were high end."

Consumers do have rights:

*Debt collectors are prohibited from saying you will be arrested if you don't pay your debt.

*Debt collectors can not lie or falsely claim they are law enforcement or an attorney.

*And, they can't harass, oppress or abuse.

Chris says, "It was very traumatic, very difficult experience for both of us financially and emotional level as well. We were definitely seeking retribution and seeking vindication making sure these people paid for their crimes because they are hurting people and we're one of them."

Arent is serving a 12-year jail sentence and is under orders to pay $3.6 million dollars in restitution.

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