The Debt Collection Robin Hood

Here’s the story of one fed-up consumer who learned how to hit collection agencies where they hurt most — in the pocketbook. It’s all about catching creditors when they make a mistake, usually in aggressive bill collecting mode.

The Web site DallasObserver.com did the digging. In January, the site profiled Northeast Dallas resident Craig Cunningham, a self-proclaimed “private attorney general” who has struck a blow for consumers in debt far beyond the Texas border.

Since 2005, Cunningham has collected $20,000 in fines and penalties from collection agencies he beat in court over improper bill collection tactics, causing some collections professionals to not call him a private attorney general, but a “credit terrorist.”

Here is the backstory, and it’s a whopper. According to the Dallas Observer, the 29-year-old, Cunningham owes about $100,000 in debt, a major chunk of it in credit card debt. He is also facing foreclosure and is unemployed, the Web site reports. Most of his phone calls come from collection agencies, a burden that Cunningham struggled with until he figured out one key countermeasure — he could turn the tables on collections agencies and get them to pay him.

Cunningham began turning on collection agencies back in 2005, when he faced two foreclosures and an avalanche of debt. He had borrowed $100,000 to buy some rental property in Houston, and invest in the stock market — in the highly volatile and soon-to-be-collapsed sub-prime mortgage securities market.

When the real estate market blew out, Cunningham was left holding the bag on his rental properties, and soon both were foreclosed. Other debts piled up and soon his phone was ringing off the hook from aggressive bill collectors looking for Cunningham to fork over the cash he owed. His back to the wall, he began scouring Internet credit message boards, and found that he could leverage federal and state laws in his favor against overly aggressive bill collectors.

The key was baiting the collections agent on the other end of the line and waiting for the agent to say something incriminating that crossed the line into what the law considered abuse. He began taping calls and soon had his first lawsuit against a security alarm company looking for $450 from an early termination fee.

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