Financial hardships are stressful. Whether it is because of credit card debt, student loans, mortgages, or past-due service bills, harassing phone calls from debt collectors can add a considerable amount to your level of stress. Debt collector harassment has led to numerous personal bankruptcies, marital instabilities, loss of jobs, and invasions of privacy. Although persistent attempts to collect from you is legal, debt collector harassment is illegal and will not be tolerated by the Federal Trade Commission. Most debt collectors realize this and are good about obeying the law. Sometimes, however, debt collectors may cross the line and engage in debt collector harassment. Fortunately, there are legal actions you can take to stop this harassment.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was created for the sole purpose of protecting consumers from debt collector harassment by prohibiting certain debt collector behavior. It prohibits debt collectors employed by third party collection agencies from engaging in any form of debt collector harassment, but the Act's provisions do not cover collectors hired by the original creditors themselves. Although the act does not extend to the original creditors, but rather third party collection agencies, some states, like California, do have state laws that cover the original creditors. Be sure to check your own state law.
The FDCPA Requires Debt Collectors to
The FDCPA Prohibits Debt Collectors from
See What Actions Must a Collection Agency Avoid? to learn more.
Steps to Take Should You Fall Victim to Debt Collector Harassment
The first thing to do is to write the debt collector a letter telling them to stop contacting you. Under the FDCPA, they must follow your request. Keep in mind, however, that unless you plan to dispute the debt or file bankruptcy, the best thing to do is deal with the debt collectors as they come. The longer you wait, the worse the situation may become for you.
Be sure to document all illegal behavior. Any conduct prohibited by the FDCPA should be documented, immediately. Keep a log of all of the debt collector harassment. You may even want to consider having another person present during debt collector phone calls or communications. Some people even record their conversations with the debt collector, without telling the debt collector. This is illegal in some states, so be sure to check your own state's laws.
Next, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You may request forms from the Federal Trade Commission, or you can write a letter yourself. Send it to 6th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580, or visit them online at www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. Be sure to include in your complaint the collection agency's name and address, the name of the original creditor, the dates and times of all communications, the names of any witnesses, and copies of any other material (written communications, tapes of conversations, your debt collector harassment log, etc.)
In addition to sending it to the Federal Trade Commission, sending a complaint to your state's agency dealing with creditor harassment is a good idea, too. You should also send copies to the collection agency and the original creditor. In some cases, concerned for their own liability, the debt collector may offer to cancel the debt if you withdraw the complaint. This would be a great outcome for you, because you could avoid the debt, the harassing communication would stop, and you could avoid potentially long proceedings by the Federal Trade Commission.
Another option is to sue the debt collector. Only consider this option if you have a truly strong case of debt collector harassment, and not just because the debt collector is annoying. If you lose your case, the court could make you pay the debt collector's court costs and attorney's fees.
The FDCPA is a strict liability law. This means that you do not have to prove any actual damages. You can be awarded up to $1,000 plus attorney's fees just because the debt collector violated the law. Furthermore, if you can show actual damages, such as the cost of switching a phone number, you can recover those damages, as well.
If the debt collector proves that the violation was unintentional and resulted from a "bona fide error", despite the company's procedure to avoid such errors, they could escape liability.
Get a Handle on Your Debt Situation: Talk to an Attorney
If you owe debts and perhaps are late with payments or even in default, you may be getting hounded by collection agencies and wondering how to catch your breath. But certain actions by collectors may be illegal. If you have legal questions about your debt obligations or dealings with debt collectors, you may want to speak with a local debt and bankruptcy law attorney.