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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

How do debt collection companies work? Comments: Marek Kołodziejczyk, Katarzyna Kujawa, Tomasz Parol

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I have a feeling of injustice – said Marek Kołodziejczak, a victim of the actions of a debt collection company, in an interview with the tvn24.pl business editorial team. – Suddenly someone calls us, claiming that we have a debt for some reason and that we have to pay back the money – says Katarzyna Kujawa, a lawyer from the Rynkowski law firm. – The scale of this practice is very large and affects several million people in Poland – adds Tomasz Parol, head of the Direct law firm.

– They have been harassing me for six years – this is how Marek Kołodziejczyk, in an interview with the tvn24.pl business editorial team, describes the way one of the debt collection companies acted towards him.

Mr. Marek assures that he has no debt.

– Where did I go wrong? The moment I replied to several e-mails, i.e. I confirmed the correctness of the e-mail address and name and surname. When I didn’t receive any response from them, I decided to call. Since then, the harassment has continued. They contact me on average once a week, from every direction: letters, text messages, e-mails, telephone calls, including automated calls to me – he lists.

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Kołodziejczyk also shows text messages. For example, in the one from November 9, 2023 we read: “Due to new information in the case, we request urgent contact to conclude an agreement.”

According to him, the solution is not to block numbers. – I have purchased a paid application that blocks spam numbers. Numbers with negative opinions are indicated by different users. There are hundreds of debt collection agencies, but they keep contacting me from new numbers, he says.

Or maybe you do have a debt?

I ask Marek Kołodziejczyk if he really has no debt. He assures that he has never taken any payday loans. He only had loans in banks and they were all repaid. – I also checked whether I was included in the debt registers, for which I paid PLN 150. My bank scoring was also provided – it was 94 percent. He even suggests that I am an ideal borrower and there is no overdue debt in my credit history – he notes.

Maybe you didn’t pay a bill 15 years ago? – we ask. – I won’t have my arm cut off. I think not, because I am conscientious and meticulous. The problem is that I didn’t get any details about my case. I don’t know what alleged debt the debt collection company wants to recover, he explains.

So how did it start? The first contact from the debt collection company is by letter, but the letters arrive at the apartment where Marek Kołodziejczyk was not registered. – Where did they get this address? – he wonders in our conversation.

In the documents sent, he was informed that he had a debt, that there was an internal case number and that if he contacted the company quickly, they would be willing to write off some part of the debt.

– They did not provide any amounts in the letters. As a psychologist, I also believe that these writings are constructed to arouse fear and are based on primal human instincts. Each of us has heard stories that bailiffs enter houses and seize everything they find there, for example a child’s respirator – says Marek Kołodziejczyk.

He also says that after so many years of harassment, he is very tired and feels powerless. – I am helpless, even though I know legal language and I am good at using technology. I also understand psychological mechanisms. Most people cannot disconnect their emotions, reflect, react immediately, and not really get carried away.

– I feel a sense of injustice – he says. – Because many people may not be aware of the mechanism of operation of such companies and therefore will not be able to defend themselves.

“This is extortion, this is intimidation”

Tomasz Parol, head of the Direct law firm that provides assistance to alleged debtors at the debt collection stage, estimates in an interview with TVN24 Biznes that “the scale of this practice is very large and concerns several million people in Poland.”

– Behind debt collection companies there are large call centers where their employees deal with the monetization of so-called receivables every day. I would call it low-cost monetization, because it violates all rules and procedures. In short, through intimidation and manipulation – he emphasizes.

What should legal debt collection look like? The lawyer explains that if there is an actual receivable, i.e. we have a debtor resulting from failure to fulfill the contract, he is called upon to pay. Such a debtor knows that he is a debtor of this entity and that this is based on specific documents. As Tomasz Parol adds, “this is often the case, but not always.” – In the case of the original creditor, for example a bank, the letter refers to a specific loan agreement, arrears and specific amounts. He indicates the correspondence he conducted. In controversial cases, the claim goes to court, he explains.

However, in the case of debt collection companies, the situation is different. Because such a company simply calls someone and claims to have acquired his debt. He does not present any documents. Even though, according to the law, this should be done in such a way that the seller of the receivable provides information that the receivable has been sold.

– If someone purchases a receivable, they should show up with all the documentation and say: dear sir, we have purchased your receivable, here are all the documents we have in this matter. They show that you owe so much money. Please read this. If you have no comments, then please pay. If you have any comments, we’ll see you in court. But this is never done, the lawyer notes.

“Suddenly someone calls us, claiming that we are in debt for some reason”

Katarzyna Kujawa, a lawyer from the Rynkowski law firm, explains what the process looks like in reality. – Suddenly someone calls us, claiming that we are in debt for some reason and that we have to pay back the money. We, on the other hand, are unable to associate what this case is. We think that all our debts have been paid or we cannot remember the moment to investigate or confirm anything. This is also unacceptable because we have not been provided with any evidence, he states.

He also points out that there are local debt collectors who visit people at home and at work. – They are talking to neighbors about the alleged debt. So here we have a violation of domestic peace and slander. Such debt collectors come at unusual, non-standard times. Either early in the morning or very late. This is extortion, this is intimidation – says the lawyer.

Tomasz Parol shows another irregularity. The same receivables that, for example, were repaid to one debt collection company, are also repaid to another one.

– The record holder was a gentleman from Silesia who was pursued by a bailiff for twelve claims regarding the same debt. Then the bailiff came to our office and said that it looked like abuse. These cases were simply sold, taken to court, and a false address of the alleged debtor was constantly provided. The court considered the documents served and subsequent enforcement orders were issued. The procedure was repeated twelve times – he enumerates.

Katarzyna Kujawa gives another example. – In 2023, a debt collection company buys a debt of ten thousand zlotys from 2004 from the bank. He is trying to force him to pay PLN 95,000 because he has been charging interest and handling fees since 2004. These are not incidental things. These are typical things. That’s how it works, he points out.

I have a bailiff

According to the latest Central Statistical Office data, debt collection companies accepted 7.7 million receivables (excluding external investment funds) with a nominal value of PLN 31.9 billion in 2021, of which 86.6 percent were consumer receivables, and corporate receivables – 13.4 percent. The average value of receivables accepted for servicing in 2021 was PLN 4,141 (PLN 4,275 in the previous year).

As at the end of 2021, debt collection companies serviced 17 million active receivables (excluding external investment funds) with a nominal value of PLN 123.2 billion, of which 82.7 percent were consumer receivables, and corporate receivables 17.3 percent.

Among all primary creditors for consumer receivables, the largest group were: banks (74.7%) and loan companies (13.4%).

Tomasz Parol explains that “the whole system is mainly driven by banks selling their debts, because within their structures they have rather soft debt collection.” – They try to be polite to their customers. A debt collection company doesn’t have to be like that anymore. Some of these companies apply really bandit rules, he warns.

So what are bandit rules? Lawyers explain that the debt collection company uses the bailiff as a creditor. This means that the bailiff, on request, makes deliveries and performs so-called other non-enforcement bailiff activities. Then the bailiff delivers a summons from the debt collector, but on the bailiff’s paper. Someone who receives such a document says with horror: “I have a bailiff.”

– He does not recognize that the small print says that these are not enforcement proceedings, but other bailiff activities. And such a person is simply afraid of this situation. He thinks the matter is settled, Katarzyna Kujawa tells us.

Lawyers point to further actions. A promise with a settlement proposal, in which debt collectors promise that in order to pay some part of the debt they will withdraw the claim. After the customer pays this amount, they withdraw the promise. Instead, they take the proof of payment to court as an acknowledgment of the debt and win the case.

E-court in Lublin and payment orders

Katarzyna Kujawa points out that the e-court in Lublin plays an important role in the entire process. – We register on the website, everything is done online. Then a person who believes that he is a creditor or a debt collection company representing him files a lawsuit to this court. Importantly, no evidence is attached, but it is indicated. However, these documents are not physically sent to the court. Based on the declaration, the court issues a payment order, he explains.

Another sensitive area indicated by lawyers is the sending of documents to the alleged debtor. False addresses are often provided, containing a Czech error. As a result, the documents do not reach this debtor and he has no opportunity to defend his rights.

– He doesn’t know at all that such proceedings are taking place or that any order has been issued. We are not talking about payment orders worth several hundred zlotys. Any case with a maximum value of seven figures can be brought before the e-court, because that is the only limitation in the system. This means that a lawsuit can be filed for an amount of over PLN 9 million, adds Katarzyna Kujawa.

A request to be forgotten? “We are talking about people who act illegally”

What should a person who receives such a lawsuit do? – You must observe the deadline of fourteen days from the date of delivery of the payment order and write an objection – replies Tomasz Parol.

As he clarifies, the objection does not have to be a procedural or legal document. Just write on a piece of paper that “I object” and send the document by registered mail. If the court in Lublin receives our objection, it will revoke the payment order. The case goes to the court competent for our place of residence. Then debt collectors must submit evidence to support their claims.

However, when it comes to numerous phone calls, the lawyer recommends one action. If someone wants to verify our name and surname, we say it’s a mistake and turn off.

– What effect does this have? The best, because there is a call center on the other side and they have to record that the phone they have in the database is a mistake. It will be a waste of their time and they will stop calling. The worst thing is when we confirm that we are us. Then they won’t stop harassing, says the lawyer.

Another important question is whether it is possible to ask such companies to be forgotten? Katarzyna Kujawa has no illusions. – We are talking about people who come to us with their feet in the door and act illegally. A request to forget this can be sent to the browser. She doesn’t want to hurt us, she respects the law. Debt collectors no longer, because they have one goal, which is to extract as much money as possible using all possible means – he sums up.

Read also: Most households “cannot afford to buy more or save money.” Alarming test results

Main photo source: Shutterstock



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