Let’s say that you’ve gotten behind on your bills to the point that some companies have turned your accounts over to a collection agency. You have been contacted by debt collectors via letter or phone call. In most instances, you’ve been dealt with fairly; after all, you do owe money to your creditors. The collectors have set up a payment schedule for you and it’s working out well. You now have a feeling of regaining some control over this less-than-pleasant aspect of your life.
Then you start to get calls from an aggressive debt collector. He isn’t willing to listen to you or come up with a payment plan. The calls, which are at all times of the day and night, are turning ugly. He’s threatened you with various actions and is now starting to call you at work. Is this legal?
Most of this behavior is not legal and you have rights. The Federal Trade Commission oversees the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using “abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.” It’s important that in addition to recognizing harassment and abuse from debt collector that you know your rights. These are listed on the FTC website or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The organization also shares a video, “How to File a Complaint,” on the website.
So what exactly constitutes harassment and abuse by debt collectors? Here are some examples:
Harassing and/or Abusive Statements:
- Threatening to have you arrested or jailed
- Threatening physical harm
- Threatening to send false information about you to the credit reporting agencies
- Threatening to take your Social Security or other protected income
- Using obscene or profane language
False and/or Misleading Statements:
- Pretending to work for a credit reporting agency
- Pretending to work for a government agency
- Falsely claiming to be an attorney or to work with attorneys
- Giving false credit information about you to anyone
- Misrepresenting the amount you owe
- Indicating that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t
Abusive and/or Unfair Practices:
- Calling you repeatedly with intent to annoy, harass or abuse you
- Calling you after you’ve sent a “cease letter”
- Collecting interest, fees, collection expenses or other charges that are not authorized by our original payment agreement
If you are experiencing any of the above, start by reporting any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your attorney general’s office will be able to tell you about applicable laws.
Here are some additional steps you can take to make the abuse and harassment stop:
Cease Letter –You can send a letter stating that you refuse to pay the debt or that you want them to stop contacting you, or both. Once they have received your letter and ignore it, you can file a lawsuit.
Hire an Attorney – A debt collector may not contact you if you are represented by an attorney, they must contact the attorney directly.
Record your conversations – Although this is an option, be sure and check with the laws in your state regarding recording phone conversations.
While it’s important that you not avoid legitimate, responsible debt collectors, you do have the right to not be abused or harassed.