AUDIO: Racist Voice Mail Illustrates Debt-Collection Abuse

Hear a chilling example of why lawmakers like Sen. Al Franken are trying to end debt-collector abuse.

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The Root obtained the audio clip below from a source at the National Association for Consumer Advocates, a group that helped Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) craft the End Debt Collector Abuse Act (EDCAA) bill. Though the clip depicts the behavior of just one California debt collector, it's the kind of virulent harassment that has become a fact of life for a host of American families struggling with their finances during this deep recession. While it's vulgar, full of racial epithets and difficult to listen to, we think this tape is integral to really understanding the plight of debt-burdened Americans. Romanda Lucas, the subject of the attacks in this audio, changed the locks on her home when these calls started coming.

If it passes -- with the support of Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) -- the EDCAA will stiffen penalties for debt collectors who violate the current debt-collector abuse law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). As it stands, the FDCPA's current ceiling for punitive damages against a creditor is $1,000, the amount it has been since the law was enacted in 1977. Franken's bill seeks to increase that amount to more than $3,600 and then peg it to inflation. The EDCAA would also make it unlawful for debtors to enlist the justice system in their hunt for payment. It's not illegal to have debt, and yet every day, courts around the country are jailing debtors under specious circumstances.

Ultimately, Franken says, his goal is simply to "keep debt collectors honest." "Right now, far too many consumers are being abused by debt collectors who exploit loopholes in the law to make an extra buck," he said in a statement to The Root, "and this bill would protect consumers against that."

It might also help Romanda Lucas and her young son get some sleep.

--Cord Jefferson

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