A debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.
What Kind of Debt Collector Harassment is Illegal?
The intent of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is to prevent consumers suffering at the hands of debt collectors. One section of the law (15 U.S.C. Section 1692d) broadly defines illegal debt collection behavior as any that results in feelings of harassment or abuse. The general wording of the statute paves the way for courts to rein in debt collectors for any type of improper conduct – even tactics not specifically addressed in the FDCPA.
While the law goes on to specify certain illegal behaviors, the takeaway is that courts have broad discretion in applying this provision of the FDCPA. For example, federal courts have determined that these debt collection tactics are illegal:
- Calling and threatening you by telling you that they’ll contact your family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or boss
- Leaving messages with your family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or boss when they could have called you directly
- Calling you at your workplace even though the debt collector has previously been told that you can’t talk at work
- A debt collector not revealing who they are when communicating via text, on social media, or in person
- Attempting to continue to collect a debt – including filing a lawsuit against you and obtaining a judgment – even after being notified multiple times that your debt was discharged in bankruptcy
- Sending an intimidating letter accusing you of ignoring the debt and believing that it would be forgotten, along with a warning that it’s the debt collector’s job to make sure you don’t forget the debt
It’s important to note that this section of the FDCPA applies to any consumer – not just those who owe a debt. For example, if you are receiving harassing calls from a debt collector who’s calling the wrong number, or who’s calling for an ex-spouse, you’re still protected under the law.
How Does the “Least Sophisticated Consumer” Standard Apply to Harassment?
Federal courts have long held that debt collection tactics, ranging from the verbiage in debt collection letters to other collector behaviors, must meet the “least sophisticated consumer” standard. This means that any person must be able to understand what a debt collector is saying. For example, a debt collection letter can’t threaten you with a lawsuit and then use a contradictory footnote filled with legalese to stay within FDCPA boundaries.
Debt collectors must assume, as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, that a consumer “isn’t a dimwit.” The court continued, “She may be uninformed, naive, and trusting…but she has rudimentary knowledge about the financial world, and is capable of making basic logical deductions and inferences.”
Still, the least sophisticated consumer standard can apply to the harassment provision of the FDCPA. For example, if a debt collector knows that you’re mourning the death of your mother, are recovering from a serious illness, or are living through the aftermath of a financial catastrophe, they must be aware that using even mildly abusive language can seriously impact you and make you feel harassed.
How Do I Fight Back Against Harassment?
If a debt collector harasses or abuses you, you have the right to sue them in federal court. If the court finds that the debt collector has violated the FDCPA, you can recover up to $1,000 in statutory damages. Because the law requires the debt collection agency to pay your attorney fees, you won’t have to pay for legal representation. If you’ve been harassed, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by asserting your rights.
Lemberg Law attorneys protect consumers from abusive debt collection agencies. If you are receiving unwanted collection calls at work, then you could have a case against the collection agency. Contact Lemberg Law at 844-685-9200 ☎ or complete our online form for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.
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