When a debt collector harasses, oppresses, or abuses a debtor, it is called harassment. Debt collectors are prohibited from harassing debtors by debt collection laws, which are enforced by government agencies. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
What is the FDCPA?
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using deceptive, abusive or unfair practices when collecting money from an individual. The Act only protects individuals, and not businesses. According to the Act, a debt collector cannot:
- Contact a person at any inconvenient time or place, such as early in the morning or late at night;
- Contact a person at work unless they have been informed that they can do so;
- Use violence or threats;
- Publish names of people who owe money;
- Repeatedly call, harass and annoy the individual;
- Use profane language;
- Refuse to identify themselves;
- Pretend to be a government official or lawyer;
- Arrest the individual;
- Participate in unfair practices; and/or
- Reveal confidential information about debtors to third parties.
Debt collectors also may not use deceptive practices, including:
- Telling a person that they are an attorney;
- Threatening to have a person arrested; and/or
- Misleading the person about the amount of debt owed.
What Can I Do If a Debt Collector Harasses Me?
If being harassed by a debt collector, a person should keep records of the phone calls, to include content of the calls, as well as dates and times calls were made. Emails, texts and regular mail from the debt collector should also be kept as records.
A person subject to harassment should ask the debt collector to stop the harassing calls, and should send a letter in writing to the collection company asking that the harassment stop.
A person harassed by a debt collector has three options to resolve a harassment issue:
- Submit a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau;
- Contact the attorney general for the state where the person resides; and/or
- File a lawsuit under the Act against the debt collector in civil court.
The Difference Between a Debt Collector and a Telemarketing Scam
Telemarketing scams have been trying to separate us from our money/possession for years. Often, rumors of a new scam will circulate, like the IRS threatening with an arrest warrant if the person does not pay owed back-taxes.
So how do you know it’s a telemarketing scam or a debt collector? A telemarketing scam typically have a robotic call, but they can also have a live person speaking to you. If they do not tell you or refuse to tell you:
- About the debt you have;
- How much is owed;
- What is the debt for; or
- Who is the holder of the debt.
If they are unable to tell you any information about why the amount of money is owed, then they are not a debt collector. Be sure to document the name of the person or the company that is harassing you, if you are not sure if they are a debt collector or a scammer.
What Happens If I File a Lawsuit?
The plaintiff, or victim of harassment, will need to prove that the debt collector has violated some aspect of the FDCPA. The case will proceed like any other civil trial. If the plaintiff wins, the debt collection may have to pay:
- Attorney’s fees for the plaintiff; and/or
- Money damages.
What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is another federal debt collection law. It outlines how debt collections must be reported to the three credit bureaus. For instance, assume that a debt collector sends financial information about a debtor’s bill to the credit bureaus.
Instead of reporting the debtor is three months behind, the debt collector reports that the debtor is seven months in arrearage. This false information violates the FCRA.
Should I Talk to an Attorney about Debt Collector Harassment Laws?
Debt collection agencies do violate both the FDCPA and the FCRA regularly. Thus, you may be a victim of deceptive or abusive practices that debt collectors engage in. It is highly recommended that you contact a local collection defense lawyer about ways to resolve the issue.