Thousands of consumers each year complain about harassment by debt collectors. The Federal Debt Collection Protection Act (FDCPA) specifically prohibits such harassment, but unscrupulous collection agencies openly defy the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), bullying and intimidating consumers into paying debts.
Consumers Must Be Vigilant To Avoid Illegal Debt Collector Harassment Tactics
Debt collectors may use extreme tactics. For example, in 2011 the FTC sued a California company that harassed consumers by threatening death to them and their pets, along with the desecration of the bodies of their deceased relatives. The company also threatened to reveal the consumers’ debts to third parties, including employers and neighbors.
In another example, the Pennsylvania attorney general filed suit against an Erie company for using an elaborate scam. The company would send people dressed in fake sheriff’s uniforms to consumers’ homes, where they would be issue fake subpoenas ordering them to appear at a fake courtroom before a fake judge in a black robe. Here, they would be intimidated into revealing personal financial information and, in some instances, signing over vehicle titles to satisfy debts. Watch this YouTube report.
The CFPB details thousands of consumer complaints relating to debt collector harassment.
The CFPB, which primarily enforces federal consumer laws, encourages consumers to share their complaints by posting them on their consumer narrative page. According to its 2017 annual report, the CFPB received 88,000 debt collection complaints in 2016, many of which involved a form of harassment.
These three complaints were received in August 2017:
A debt collector threatened to put a lien on the home of the consumer’s sister. When the consumer refused to settle the debt, the debt collector called the sister to tell her that she should make a deal to avoid losing her home, and that she should file a police report against the consumer.
A debt collector used multiple phone calls and threats of court action to harass a consumer and her parents, also threatening to contact her employer’s HR department. The consumer had previously discharged the debt through bankruptcy.
A debt collector attempted to collect a fake debt. The consumer verified that the debt was not owed. The debt collector listed the fake debt on the consumer’s credit report, harassed her with phone calls, and left a message with her employer.
Which types of debt collector harassment specifically violate federal law under the FDCPA?
• The use of conduct which is likely to harass, oppress, or abuse a consumer regarding the collection of a debt. • The use or threat of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person. • The use of obscene or profane language, or language with the natural consequence of abusing the hearer or reader. • The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a consumer reporting agency. • The advertisement for sale of any debt to coerce payment of the debt. • The act of allowing a telephone to ring incessantly, or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number. • The placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.
Congress passed this law to protect you from any type of debt collector harassment. If you are uncertain whether a debt collector has harassed you, contact an attorney who is experienced in protecting your rights under the FDCPA.
The CFPB offers tips for you to avoid problems from debt collection harassment:
You cannot be sued if you are currently in agreement with the creditor or debt collector to pay less than the full amount. Get the agreement in writing.
Never ignore an order to appear in court. Never. If you fail to appear, the court may issue a default judgment against you. Go to court even if you are being sued on a debt that you believe is not yours, or you believe may have expired. If you have any questions, contact a consumer rights attorney who is experienced in protecting your rights under the FDCPA.
Verify the legitimacy of the debt collector by getting the caller’s name, company, street address, telephone number, and professional license number (if your state licenses debt collectors).
Refuse to discuss the debt until the debt collector sends you a written validation notice.
Do not give personal or financial information to a debt collector until you know they are a valid debt collector.
If you know that you owe the debt, but do not know if the debt collector is valid, contact your creditor.
If you think the calls are suspicious and want them to stop, send the caller a letter (keeping a copy for own records) demanding that they stop. By law, the debt collector must comply.
If a debt collector has been hounding you, call 844-685-9200 now for a free, no obligation case evaluation with one of our expert representatives. Our attorneys have experience fighting debt collectors and standing up for consumers. If a debt buyer has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you’re entitled to file suit in federal court, and could be awarded up to $1,000 and other damages.
About the Author:
Sergei Lemberg is a lawyer whose practice focuses on consumer law, class actions and personal injury litigation. He has been repeatedly recognized as the “most active consumer attorney” in the country. In 2020, Mr. Lemberg represented Noah Duguid in the United States Supreme Court in the case entitled Duguid v. Facebook. He is the author of Defanging Debt Collectors, a book that teaches consumers how to battle debt collectors and win.