Even Elizabeth Warren Gets Harassed By Debt Collectors — And It’s About To Get Worse For Everyone

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BY: Ryan Grim 06.01.17

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The calls started two or three months after Elizabeth Warren got a new cellphone number many years ago. They were looking for Gus.

“I’d get them in spurts. I’d get maybe 10 calls in the space of three or four days. And I’d say ‘no, no, no’ every time. And then I wouldn’t hear anything more for several months and I’d say, ‘OK, that problem’s gone away,’” Warren said in an interview with The Intercept.

“And then it would start again — and I’d get calls for Gus.”

Even Washington’s most powerful denizens aren’t immune from the signature annoyance purveyed by the multibillion-dollar debt collection industry — and it could be about to get worse. President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission is fielding petitions from industry groups to allow them to increase the frequency of such calls, and to reach out to friends and family of Gus, too. The current FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, has previously voted against efforts to limit debt collection calls.

Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, made her name as an academic through her work on bankruptcy and later went on to dream up, then push through Congress, then run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Despite her steady rise to influence and power, she couldn’t make the calls stop.

“This went on for maybe four or five years [before] I finally thought, I’m gonna track this down and make this stop,” the former Harvard law professor said. “So I tried — and I could never figure out who I was talking to and each time they’d assure me it was going to be fixed. And each time I’d get another collection call within the space of a few hours.”

Warren never played the senatorial card — What good would it do? — but she did try a few different approaches, she said. “I told them I was a lawyer and that I did debt collection law and that they could not still be calling on a debt that was this old. And I would try to throw out a few legal phrases and they did absolutely no good. Zero, none,” she said.

The calls weren’t all intimidating or rude, she said. “Some of them called and were very friendly. ‘Hey, Gus! How’s it going?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m not Gus.’ ‘Yeah, well, Gus — When’s Gus gonna be there?’ And I’d say, ‘Gus has not had this number for six years at least.’ And the answer was, ‘Ah, Gus, my man!’” she said.