I’ve been going through the same thing with some really awful debt collectors and it’s been a nightmare.
Whatever you do, don’t send them any money right now. They are trying to intimidate you into paying them before you take care of your “four walls.” They will say anything to make you mad and upset you. They want you to get to the point where you will pay them to get them off your back. I don’t think sending them a pro-rata letter is a good idea either. If they see you have money to pay anyone else, they will continue to try to intimidate you until they get to the top of your list.
If you do want to work out a settlement with them, you should send them a validation letter first. It can be a simple one-line letter saying, “I dispute this debt in it’s entirety and request validation.” Make sure you send it certified mail return receipt requested. Once they receive the letter from you (you will get the green postcard with a signature as proof), they cannot contact you until they have sent you proof that you owe them the money. You should never pay any debt collector anything without proof that they are collecting for a credit card you owe or that they have legitimately purchased a debt that you owe. They also have to account for the amount they say you owe them, original debt, interest, etc. If they can’t prove those things, you don’t owe them a dime.
Now about the phone calls – what they are telling you on the phone sounds like a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
They cannot threaten to take any property, garnish your wages, or anything like that unless they are lawyers, and they are not lawyers, they are a collection agency. A real lawyer wouldn’t threaten you like that on the phone. And they definitely can’t take your car! By violating the FDCPA, the collection agency is liable to pay you $1000 per violation plus legal fees. That would probably cover a big part of the debt you owe. You may choose to fight them and try to collect that.
If you have a way to record the phone calls and the threats they’re making, then do it. If it isn’t legal in your state to record phone calls, then take detailed notes of the calls including the date and time. Check this website to see if it’s legal in your state to record phone calls: http://www.rcfp.org/taping/ It’s only illegal to record if you’re in a 2-party state. If you’re not in a 2-party state it’s OK to record because you are one of the parties consenting to record the call.
Once you have written or recorded documentation of the harrassing phone calls, find a lawyer who will take your case without you first paying a retainer fee – my experience has been that most lawyers will try to talk you into bankruptcy, but don’t go there. Maybe you know a lawyer or have a friend of a friend who can recommend a lawyer for you. If you’re in Oklahoma, I can recommend someone.
I know it’s scary to get a lawyer involved, but if you don’t settle with them (only after they have validated the debt) or if you choose to ignore the debt collector, they will either sell your debt to another debt collector who will start the collection process all over again or they can retain a lawyer who will initiate legal proceedings to sue you (some states require they get a lawyer in your state, I know Oklahoma is that way). If you get sued they can put a lien on your property or garnish your wages and it will cost you a lot more money than if you had just settled with them. Please don’t let it get to that point (I learned the hard way and have been sued and am in the process of being sued again).
Whatever you do, don’t make decisions out of fear. That’s what they want you to do. Also, don’t believe anything they’re telling you (like they don’t have to validate the debt). Part of their tactic is to lie to you and they will say anything to get your money.