In 2010, Congress changed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to better protect consumers from “abusive debt collection practices,” which can contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy. If your privacy has been invaded or you have been harassed by abusive debt collectors, you may be able to file a lawsuit against them.
What is a debt collector?
A “debt collector” is a person or company who attempts to collect debts on behalf of another person. The people you owe money to (your “creditors”) do not count as “debt collectors” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A debt collector can be a company or a person who repeatedly calls you, sends you letters, or takes other actions to contact you about your debts. These calls or letters can often be inconvenient, harassing, or embarrassing. However, you have the right to be free from certain kinds of debt collection practices.
What can a debt collector do or not do?
Debt collectors can legally contact you concerning your debts. It may not be pleasant, but it is their job. Sometimes, however, debt collectors cross certain lines that make their conduct unlawful. Below is a partial list of things that debt collectors cannot do.
Calling at an Inconvenient Time or Place
A debt collector cannot call you at certain times or at certain places. Without special circumstances, they usually cannot call you:
- Before 8 am or after 9 pm
- Directly if you are represented by an attorney
- At work (if your boss prohibits such calls)
Harassment and Abuse
A debt collector may not harass or abuse you in relation to your debt. The law says debt collectors cannot:
- Threaten you or your property with violence
- Use obscenities or curse at you to intimidate you
- Publish a public list of people who owe debts
- Publicly advertise the sale of a debt to embarrass or coerce you
- Call you repeatedly to “annoy, abuse, or harass” you or others in your household
- Call you without disclosing their identity as debt collectors
False or Misleading Representations
Debt collectors cannot mislead you about certain things. Among other things, they cannot:
- Tell you or imply that they are government representatives or agents
- Tell you they are attorneys (if they are not attorneys)
- Give you a false name for themselves or their company
- Tell you that you owe more than you actually owe
- Threaten to charge you with a crime to disgrace or intimidate you
- Mislead you about legal documents
Debt collectors “may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” Collectors are using unfair practices if they:
- Attempt to collect debts that you did not sign for
- Deposit post-dated checks earlier than you asked them to
- Ask you for post-dated checks to threaten or intimidate you
- Threaten to take your property illegally
- Send you a letter that does not include their company name
Note that these are not complete lists. The full law can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s website. The FTC website also includes plain language information for consumers that can be found here.
What can I do if I feel I have been harassed by a debt collector?
You can sue the debt collection agency at any point within a year of the harassment. If your suit is successful, you are eligible for up to $1,000 for each violation of the law, plus any damages (such as medical bills or lost wages) that you can prove. The debt collectors may also have to pay your attorney fees.
If you believe that you have been harassed or intimidated by a debt collector, please contact our office to schedule an appointment to see if we can represent you. You can call us at (812) 269-8277 or fill out our online intake form on the website.
Certified Legal Intern
This article is not legal advice. Last edited March 9, 2017, based on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., amended 2010. Laws can change, so make sure you have up-to-date information.
You should always seek the assistance of an attorney before attempting to file a lawsuit.