Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Friday, February 5, 2021

Harassment and the Collection Agency

Something that is a frequent complaint by consumers is that a collection agency is harassing them.  Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not – so what is harassment?  And more importantly, how can we address this giant elephant in the room that is often the main culprit for making the experience of being in collections so horrible?  Let’s take a look at this.

Why Do Consumers Feel Harassed?

Regardless of what the rules are, if a consumer complains they are being harassed, it’s because they are getting multiple calls, letters, and emails and they feel under siege.  Yes, it’s the job of a collection agency to contact the consumer to arrange payment, but if the frequency of calls is so intense that the consumer feels attacked, they’ll just turtle up and not answer the calls – very easy in today’s world of smart phones set to do not disturb.

 lot of complaints are well founded, because agencies use predictive dialers cranked to maximum output, or have a poor calling plan where collection agents have too few accounts assigned to them, so they have no choice but to call over and over.  Other complaints are part of a bigger problem, because the consumer is being called on multiple accounts (sometimes within the same agency, with different collectors working them), so the individual file being worked is not the problem, it’s the five files and five collectors calling making the consumer feel bombarded.

 collection agency has a role to play in creating a sense of urgency over a debt – so it’s a fine line.  One call every 30 days is certainly too little, and five calls a day is certainly too much.  What’s the balancing line, to keep the debt ‘top of mind’ for the consumer, so it gets addressed as quickly as possible?

What’s The Legal Definition of Harassment?

In the Canada Criminal Code, Criminal Harassment is defined as: 

“264 (1) No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of

a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;

(b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;

c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or

d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.

Criminal Code (

The problem here is “repeatedly communicating” isn’t defined.

Fortunately, a number of provinces have collection laws that dictate what a collection agency can and can’t do.  Ontario, for example, defines the number of times an agency can call a consumer:

2. Contact the person more than three times in a seven-day period on behalf of the same creditor, subject to subsections (8) and (9)

Pretty simple right?  So what’s considered a “contact”?    It’s not very well defined in the act.  It states that letter mail, a request for contact (like a return call or responding to an email) doesn’t count.  But does a call where it’s not answered?  This is something that’s debated inside the collection industry all the time.

ore problematically, there’s this exemption: 

“(9) The prohibition set out in paragraph 2 of subsection (6) does not apply to a collection agency or collector until such time that the collection agency or collector speaks with the person being contacted either in a telephone call or a personal call, but the prohibition applies thereafter.  O. Reg. 103/06, s. 2.”

R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 74: GENERAL (

Which means, until a consumer picks up the phone, an agency could ostensibly call 5 times a day.  With a predictive dialer, that’s easy to do.

So What Should A Consumer Do?

The easiest answer, is pick up the phone.  Ask why they are calling, what debt it’s for, and what company they are calling from.  If they are professional and reasonable, you can continue to have phone contact with them.  If they are being intimidating or unprofessional, ask for their mailing address or email address, and send them a request in writing for no further calls, and request contact only in writing by letter mail.  Agencies calling in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and all of the United States must honour these requests.  It doesn’t make the debt go away, but it makes the calls stop.

Also, by picking up the phone, you reduce their call attempts to three times in seven days if you are in Ontario or British Columbia or Nova Scotia. 

If an agency refuses your request for communication in writing, or contacts you excessively you can complain to your provincial Ministry of Consumer Affairs, who license collection agencies and regulate their behaviour.

What Should A Collection Agency Do?

First, shut off that predictive dialer.  It’s an outdated piece of equipment and a brute force engine.  Human beings communicate best with other human beings.

econdly, set up a work plan that schedules contact attempts.  Our agency’s default is a three-business-day rotation, which means a consumer will get about two calls a week – enough to be urgent, but far below the legislative threshold.  And we hold to this standard everywhere, even in provinces or states where it isn't mandated -- because it's a solid plan that respects the consumer and makes the best use of our collection team members' time.  

And of course, once you have arrangements with a consumer, or an outright refusal to pay, take that file out of your standard call rotation.
  If someone refused to pay their account on Monday, calling them Thursday isn’t going to change their mind.

astly, use modern communications.  The bulk of consumers under the age of 60 no longer have a landline, and own smartphones.  And the least used app on the smartphone is … the phone.  Social media messaging, email, and SMS are the preferred forms of communication for consumers.  Agencies are legally permitted in most provinces to use email and sms, and updated collection laws specifically site these communication channels and how they can be used.  And once contact is made with a consumer, note their preferred method of communication and use that – if a consumer is responsive by email, stick with email, and stop calling.

f anyone has questions, or want to chat about communication methods, consumer rights, or collection agency best practices feel free to reach out to me, happy to help.

hanks kindly,

lair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
INGSTON Data & Credit
ambridge, Ontario

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