In Russia, debt collectors may sexually assault you or burn your children to get you to pay up

And you thought debt collection tactics in the United States were bad.

“They have stripped and sexually abused a woman, severely burned a toddler by firebombing a house and broken a woman’s pinkie as a warning.”

Nope, this New York Times piece isn't about a street gang or underground crime organization, but a very Russian variety of debt collectors who are increasingly using brutal tactics as the country's economic turmoil worsens.

The short version: Lots of people take out small emergency loans to get through what they hope is a temporary crisis. When they can't repay, it's easier to terrorize them than to go through more formal methods of compelling repayment.

Here's the story of one such woman who borrowed $75 from a small kiosk, when her husband got sick and couldn't work. They have a small child. She thought she could repay the loan quickly. She couldn't. And “that was when the abusive telephone calls started.” They threatened to kill her.

She did not go to the police, she said, because “everyone told us that no one would deal with it.” By the time four debt collectors wearing black balaclavas smashed into her small wooden shack on March 30, that debt had bloated to more than $3,600. The men put bags over her head and those of her husband and 17-year-old son, beating and kicking them while demanding repayment.

They pushed Ms. Gorbunova facedown on a couch, stripped off her pajamas and began “poking” her with some kind of wooden object, she said.

“I was shocked, but the only thing I thought about was that I did not want them to hurt my son,” she said on a television talk show.

The police called it sexual assault, and an appalled public called it rape. Representatives of the collection industry either accused her of lying or suggested that a few “black collectors” were soiling the entire industry. No one has been arrested, and the credit company denied any involvement.

"Debt Collectors Adopt Mob Tactics as Russians Struggle to Pay Bills" []

Follow the reporter of this story, Neil MacFarquhar on Twitter: @NeilMacFarquhar. He's the NY Times Moscow bureau chief.

Photo: Russian rouble banknotes are seen in this illustration picture taken in Moscow, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev.