One man's quest against debt collectors and resellers
December 6, 2017 12:40 PM   Subscribe

 
OMG an amazing story. Thanks for the post!
posted by asavage at 12:54 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


it's honestly kind of a bonkers rollercoaster. I don't know how you're so good at empathizing with people that you can befriend crooked debt collectors in KC, but he found a way.
posted by boo_radley at 12:56 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


I'd love to hear those tapes...
posted by asavage at 1:00 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


If nothing else, comments elsewhere on this story taught me that the TV show "Leverage" is about exactly this kind of thing and now I have to watch it.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on December 6 [9 favorites]


By the time Therrien came looking for Joel Tucker in the fall of 2015, he’d become a hard man to find. Twice divorced, he was moving from place to place, ducking his creditors.

Because of fucking course the same kind of scumbag who would gladly spearhead an entire industry where they call poor people that can't pay their bills "deadbeats," but when their fucking scams come to a screeching halt, suddenly they're not a deadbeat, just someone trying to get by.

Why is it that rich fucks always act like poor people are deadbeats, but the fucking second they're in the same position, it's different.

I'm so sick as fuck of living in this corrupt as shit capitalist shithole, especially when all the media around me keeps trying to convince me, "No, capitalism and deregulation are GOOD and PROPER!"

While it's great the FTC finally came after these guys, lets be real, the damage is done by the time they show up to "fix" things. The fact that we even have to rely on a vigilante to suss these motherfuckers out shows just how fucked we are. Because the only people we can count on for things like this are people who willdo it for FREE, because everyone who wants to get PAID have already made the decision to sell their fucking soul in the name of getting paid.

Therrien acknowledges that sometimes he went too far.

Bull. Shit. When you can't count on the fucking authorities to be taking this shit seriously, we're left with the option of fighting fire with fire. When people who are struggling are fucking killing themselves over it and no one else is standing up, you didn't go too far.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:13 PM on December 6 [80 favorites]


Therrien acknowledges that sometimes he went too far.

A debt collector threatened to rape his wife over a fictitious debt.

I would so love to sic Therrien on the assholes who keep fucking calling my phone number to collect from the guy who had it before me -- I've had my phone number for eleven years. The problem is that the debt keeps getting sold to another company, so I get one company to stop calling me after getting daily calls from them for months, and then a few months later it starts up again. They should delete my number from the file, but they won't because then they can't sell the debt to another company. There ought to be heavy fines for companies that do this sort of thing.
posted by orange swan at 1:21 PM on December 6 [25 favorites]


an entire industry where they call poor people that can't pay their bills "deadbeats"

they were calling people on their lists of entirely fictitious debts, that they sold to collectors, "deadbeats"
posted by thelonius at 1:21 PM on December 6 [10 favorites]


My read on that was that the examples of times he maybe went to far were in manipulating people associated with the scumbags he was after but that were themselves innocent of wrong doing. When it comes to getting info out kingpins like Tucker, it's no-holds-barred, have it and fuck that guy. But if you're calling his mother to try and find him his mom probably doesn't deserve to be manipulated or harassed to the same extent that the guilty parties are.
posted by VTX at 1:22 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


One shady-debt player tells me he suspected Therrien was an undercover federal investigator because he’d gathered so much information on his business. “It’s an obsession, it’s unbelievable, an outright vigilante crusade,” another says. “It doesn’t seem to equal the harm that was done to him.”

boo hoo our scamming of him doesn't seem as bad as him trying to shut us all down on behalf of all the millions of other people we've victimized boo hoo hoo.

there's not enough wicker on earth
posted by poffin boffin at 1:23 PM on December 6 [61 favorites]


Would love to see this work like Wall street, where the Whistleblower gets a cut of any fine that the firm pays based on the information they provide. Therrien could turn pro.
posted by thenormshow at 1:27 PM on December 6 [6 favorites]


I am proud to say that I supplied information to the FTC that allowed them to bring a lawsuit against a set of companies that were scamming people out of $30 to $40 per month. It turned into an obsession for me. I hammered those people. I contacted the BBB, the internet crimes commission, the FTC, etc.

I didn't work on it full time by any means, but I started yelling at people over the phone in late 2010 and the FTC case was filed in January 2013, so you have to be patient. I think you have to really be committed to the principle of the thing. I don't know how they got my info, but they stopped billing me after I called and insisted and made a big fucking deal out of it, but that, quite honestly, wasn't good enough for me. I'm a lawyer. If it took a lot of work for me to get them to leave me alone, think of all of the people who wouldn't succeed at it.

So I was just like "THINK OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE" and never stopped birddogging. And I was so fucking happy when the FTC contacted me to write an affidavit, it made it all worthwhile. Of course, I haven't checked on the progress of the lawsuit in years so now I'll have to go do that ha ha.
posted by janey47 at 1:35 PM on December 6 [78 favorites]


I don't know how you're so good at empathizing with people that you can befriend crooked debt collectors in KC, but he found a way.

This is actually pretty common among really good salespeople. That empathy is what allows them to build trust with their customer and understand their needs. Then later on when you ask them to buy what you're selling it feels more like it's one of your friends suggesting that you buy the thing. And that's not far from the truth. My dad was a used car salesman for almost the entire time I was growing up. It was totally routine for us to go out to dinner somewhere and someone would suddenly shout, "Oh hey, VTX Sr.! How are you doing!" They'd have a couple of minutes worth of conversation and move on. Afterwords I'd ask, "Who was that you were talking to?"

"Oh, just someone I sold a car to."

Sometimes it he sold them a car years ago, sometimes just last week, or anything in between but they'd know him by name and he'd know them. I would come to find out later that that kind of thing is not at all normal for car salespeople unless they are very very good at it.

What especially impresses me about Therrien is that he could do that to people that he hated. Most salespeople are good at the empathy thing because they're extroverts that think everyone is interesting. They just like meeting new and different people and talking to them. It seems like they really like all of their customers because, well, they do! Therrien HATED the people he was talking to and being able to be friendly to people when your goal is the destroy them and being able to keep the two things silo'ed like that is a strange skill. I'm glad he's wielding it for good.
posted by VTX at 1:35 PM on December 6 [19 favorites]


Oh, look, the FTC was successful!
posted by janey47 at 1:46 PM on December 6 [66 favorites]


I couldn't help but to read Joel Tucker's lines in Donald Trump's voice.
posted by mikelieman at 1:46 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Man, I've got trouble with this. To me, this guy is a hero. If I was single, childless and didn't have any hands-on hobbies, I could see this taking up a large portion of my day. I've had my cell number for almost 15 years, and somewhere in there I got on A List. I was on a series of 'lists' that were calling to try and sell me grey/black market drugs. I was eventually able to find out where the actual physical calls were coming from, pulled together all my sketchy, basic evidence, and handed it all over to their local PD and their local-ish branch of the DEA. I don't know the exact outcome, but the calls stopped shortly after that.

If your phone number is overrun with calls like this, I highly suggest getting a Nomorobo. It's a subscription service ($2/mo), but it works pretty damn well. I've had periods of high-spam-call volume that I've needed it. It's by far better than baked in services that Verizon and AT&T offer (at least...I've worked with both of them, and they're functionally useless). You can whitelist your entire contacts list pretty easily, and anything outside of that is screened relatively well. It's a nice tool, and an easy, moderate step to curbing this shit.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:51 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


> the FTC was successful!
> posted by janey47

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by hank at 1:54 PM on December 6 [13 favorites]


Wow, I like the cut of this guy's jib. Great story.

What's so weird to me in this was reading that the FTC and the FBI are still even investigating this stuff. Like, on one hand, we have a kleptocrat in the White House, our regulatory system has been being steadily but increasingly rapidly dismantled since Nixon, and we all get scammy phone calls every day, originating in other countries, with zero apparent government effort to protect us, and at the same time, someone is actually out there where at least if you have someone this dogged, he can appeal to a government agency for help. I feel like as things devolve in the US there are all these parallel realities happening at once. It's confusing.
posted by latkes at 2:08 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


As someone with severe telephone anxiety, this is like reading a story about someone who was hit on the head by a piece of space debris and immediately flew up there to clean house.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:20 PM on December 6 [42 favorites]


What especially impresses me about Therrien is that he could do that to people that he hated. Most salespeople are good at the empathy thing because they're extroverts that think everyone is interesting.

I see you've not met many salespeople.

I very briefly worked near a telemarketing shop and every single person who worked the phonebank had utter bellicose contempt for the people they sidled up to. They'd get off the calls and convivially bash the hell out of the old folks they spoke to every day in the shared lunchroom.
posted by CheapB at 2:21 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


They pull a collection call, you pull an FTC complaint. They put one of yours in a 700% interest payday loan, you put one of theirs in a $30 million settlement. That's the Chicago way. Or Rhode Island, apparently.
posted by allegedly at 2:24 PM on December 6 [17 favorites]


Telemarketing is for bad salesmen. Car sales is for decent salesmen. Medical and IT sales are where the pros go.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:24 PM on December 6 [8 favorites]


Yeah, there are a lot of really dedicated folks still at a bunch of federal agencies working hard to try to make the world a better place. American democracy may be in a freefall but. people still show up! and try to do the right thing! while they still can! Isn't that wild?
posted by peppercorn at 2:27 PM on December 6 [14 favorites]


Totally amazing. This guy's a friggin' superhero in my book, and if I ever run into him somewhere (hey, it's a small state, you never know) I am definitely gonna buy him a drink.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:42 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


How do I become a prosecutor to go after ppl like this?
posted by gucci mane at 2:42 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Still baffled that people answer telephone calls from numbers they do not recognize.
posted by Melismata at 2:47 PM on December 6 [8 favorites]


When you are waiting to hear back about a job or open appointment, you don't want that going to voicemail.
posted by soelo at 2:52 PM on December 6 [10 favorites]


I approve of his target, but Thierren gives me a Taxi Driver sort of vibe.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:55 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I see you've not met many salespeople.

Quite the opposite! My father was eventually made the used car sales manager by the dealership's owner, his older brother. I never sold cars there (my cousin did as well as several other jobs) but was a lot attendant in my teens. I got to know most of the staff but what was weird is that most of the staff already knew me usually remembering me from when I was a baby/toddler. I myself sold cars at three different dealerships and was friends with many of the sales people at all of them.

I take your point though, that was poorly phrased.

I should have said that it's a characteristic of all of the very best sales people.

I mean, I have experience making nice to someone I don't like and it's exhausting to do for the time it takes to sell a car. These are the kind of people who threatened to rape the guy's wife and he develop's long-term relationships with them.
posted by VTX at 3:59 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


This story is just delicious to anyone who has been called and hounded by bad debt collectors. I honestly kept hoping Thierren was going to strap up and go full on Judge Dredd at some point and make some greasy scam artist at least need a change of trousers and a shower.

Well over 10 years ago I made the huge mistake of racking up a really dumb ER bill once where I had an infection and I just needed antibiotics, but I was feverish and incoherent and my roommate took me to some fancy private hospital where I DIDN'T EVEN SIGN IN and said roommate helpfully provided my address and info for me just before I decided "Hey, we should really go to the county hospital because I have a really bad feeling about this" and so we walked right back out without seeing anyone but a receptionist for the 3 seconds it took to hand my friend a clipboard and sign in sheet. Never saw a nurse, never saw a doctor, announced that we were changing our minds and going elsewhere.

So, of course, they billed me something ridiculous like $1500 for "ER admission" or even "services rendered".

That so-called debt is still hounding me. In fact that stupid hospital sold off the debt in something like 60 days, so the calls started pretty much immediately. (And I have NO idea how someone could call themselves a doctor or nurse and actively DO something this shitty to someone who was obviously poor, because holy shit so angry argh!)

I haven't had a call in a few months, but every so often it gets resold and some new set of gaping assholes is trying to call me and tell me I owe them money. I have a blocked number list like 50 numbers long at this point.

How do I become a prosecutor to go after ppl like this?

Law school. Become an attorney general.

Or you could go the Batman route and become a "skip tracer" and licensed private investigator and focus on exposing these kinds of shitty things voluntarily. It's actually alarmingly easy and cheap to search for people these days, and with a PI license you could legally get access to things like Lexis-Nexis and more.
posted by loquacious at 4:19 PM on December 6 [7 favorites]


My god, this is a freaking evil scam, and I hate it. It really sucks tremendously that it takes a pissed-off regular dude to become a freelance avenger, but I am so, so glad people with that kind of tenacity exist on the good side.
posted by 41swans at 4:28 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


It's predictable but annoying that they never found the guy who threatened his wife though. That guy definitely needs to have all his most tender parts become permanently and irrevocably appealing to furious hornets.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:42 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Preferably not still connected to his body
posted by Burn_IT at 5:07 PM on December 6


Man am I glad that guy is using his powers for good, not evil.
posted by Grandysaur at 5:23 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Preferably not still connected to his body

Are you mad? You do that after the hornets.
posted by loquacious at 5:25 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


What's so weird to me in this was reading that the FTC and the FBI are still even investigating this stuff. Like, on one hand, we have a kleptocrat in the White House, our regulatory system has been being steadily but increasingly rapidly dismantled since Nixon

More commonly these days, the CFPB and your friendly local state AG. It takes time for all the dedicated line staff (who aren't political appointees) to give up and move on. There may be a few left at the federal agencies by 2020.

How do I become a prosecutor to go after ppl like this?

The vast majority of these cases will be civil. Go to a very good law school. Do internships or volunteer work at a local consumer-protection agency. Don't rack up a lot of student loan debt (or plan to spend the first five to six very-non-fun years in Biglaw to pay off those debts); the salaries are not great. Follow the issues the FTC news and the CFPB reports hit. And wait.
posted by praemunire at 6:18 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Thierren is the real Batman.
posted by medusa at 7:40 PM on December 6


This is the Liam Neeson movie that I'd pay to see.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:47 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, Therrien would make a small payment on the fake debt, then check bank records to see where it went.

I love this man.

A smart network would give him his own TV show immediately.
posted by mediareport at 8:38 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I approve of his target, but Thierren gives me a Taxi Driver sort of vibe.
Thierren is the real Batman.
This is the Liam Neeson movie that I'd pay to see.


I was about two thirds through and thinking, wow, this could be a great movie. A real 'stick up for the little guy' story. It could be played by a female, but I don't think you'd get the same types of relationships Therrian forged between a woman and a man over the phone. So who would play Therrian? His phsyique - tall, stocky, crew cut - is relevant only in terms of his own self-confidence - he doesn't actually go face to face with them. His only real defining physical characteristic would be his voice, and the way he used it.

I'd love to hear those tapes...
Me too. I wanna know how his magic works.
posted by Thella at 10:53 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


How are these sorts of scams even possible (and when will the US decide to join the civilized world)?
posted by oheso at 4:13 AM on December 7


You can sue collectors who are wrongfully coming after you under the FDCPA, and receive statutory damages (up to $1,000 per lawsuit), attorneys fees and costs, and damages for physical (including physical stress symptoms) or emotional distress. You can get an attorney and do it in state court, but you can also do it in small claims (if you're willing to stay under your state's small-claims limit for damages). Violations are pretty easy to document, most of these companies are not legally sophisticated, and judges are aware that they break the law constantly. There are lawyers who make a solid living doing nothing but FDCPA cases (many take cases on contingency), and I've also run into a few laymen over the years who got on some list and just kept suing company after company as each kept selling the same false debt to the next, and made a modest full-time living suing debt collectors who were harassing them. If you're willing to devote a weekend to sitting down and working through the FDCPA and the local court filing process, it's a pretty easy sort of complaint for a layman to file in small claims (like, if you can file a 1040, you can sue a debt collector). If you're being serially harassed because, say, some jerk keeps giving your phone number to debt collectors as their phone number, going through the work of figuring it out the first time is a lot, but every subsequent time it's just 20 minutes of editing what you already did and moseying over the court to file again.

Sometimes, and depending on the state, going to the state attorney general is more useful than going to the FTC. The state AG's office may be more aware of a serial fraudster in-state; sometimes these shady debt collection guys will start five or six companies all selling the debts to each other (which is the sort of thing that local knowledge helps with), or sometimes the same guy will be doing shady debt collection, illegal pawnbrokering, and scammy fake charities. State AGs with election campaigns coming up are also highly incentivized to get these kinds of wins on behalf of citizens; they can also prosecute for state law violations and get business licenses revoked and so on. The FTC's remit is limited to unfair trade practices (which is still pretty extensive!) and then they have to work with other agencies or hand on the case; your state AG can start with unfair debt collection and end up at criminal fraud with extensive jail time and handle it all in one office.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:54 AM on December 7 [10 favorites]


So who would play Therrian? His phsyique - tall, stocky, crew cut - is relevant only in terms of his own self-confidence - he doesn't actually go face to face with them. His only real defining physical characteristic would be his voice, and the way he used it.

Patton Oswalt or Henry Rollins.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:26 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, Therrien would make a small payment on the fake debt, then check bank records to see where it went.

Not familiar enough with the law: by making a payment, does that mean he's acknowledging the debt, or is that only true on TV court dramas?
posted by Melismata at 8:30 AM on December 7


He used persuasion techniques he’d learned selling copiers, some drawn from a book called Getting Into Your Customer’s Head.

Anyone read it? Seems popular.
posted by Coventry at 11:14 PM on December 7


Melismata: Still baffled that people answer telephone calls from numbers they do not recognize.

Product plug: my new phone, a Google Pixel, today told me that a number I didn't recognize was likely a scammer (apparently a feature that has been rolled out since July 2016 from Google, and T-Mobile added this feature to their system in March 2017). Sure enough, it was a pre-recorded message from "Your Credit Card Company" or some such bullshit, and I hung up. Good job, technology companies.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:22 PM on December 13


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