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10.0Mohammad Reza Kazerouni

How do I know if a debt collector's actions are against the law?

You've fallen behind on your debts. When your phone rings, you get an impending sense of doom. You are almost sure it's a debt collector calling, and you feel horrible that you haven't been able to pay off your debts yet. Their frequent calls started off as an annoyance, but now they are emotionally difficult. You feel bad about your unpaid debts, and on top of it, the debt collectors speak to you rudely. You wonder whether they have a right to repeatedly call you, or whether some of their actions are against the law.

Some debtors have even called your family members looking for you. It's gotten out of hand, and you just want the constant calls and threats to stop. But first, you want to have the correct information on what they are allowed to do, and what is illegal.

Here is some information about what debt collectors cannot do. Just because they cannot do something by law, doesn't mean they won't try. Some debt collectors do break the law, and you have a right to sue them if they do. You do not have to stand by and let them get by with illegal practices that cause you emotional harm.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it is illegal for debt collectors to:

Call you at "unreasonable times": Without your consent, a debt collector is not allowed to contact you at "any unusual time or place." Without knowing what an unusual time or place is for you, the general rule is a debt collector should assume that anytime before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time is an unreasonable time to call.

Lie to you: Deceptive practices such as claiming to be an attorney when they are not an attorney, or a credit reporting company or government representative, to scare you into paying the debts is illegal. They also cannot lie about the amount of debt you owe.

Harass you: It's obvious that using profanity or threatening violence are forms of harassment. But did you know that repeatedly calling you to cause annoyance is also a form of harassment by debt collectors that is illegal? Repeatedly blowing up your phone until you answer is not OK.

Threaten you: A debt collector cannot threaten you with penalties for not paying your debts, such as making threats that you will be arrested, or threatening to garnish your wages (they can only garnish your wages after they have filed a lawsuit and obtained a court judgement to garnish your wages). Some debt collectors won't make direct threats, but say things like "You are going to get into a lot of trouble if you don't take care of this," or "What you are doing is illegal and if you don't pay, you will get into trouble with the law." If a debt collector says any of these things to you, you might be left feeling uneasy. A consumer protection lawyer can help you figure out what your options are if this is happening.

Call you or contact you after you have notified them in writing to cease communication: There really is a way to make the phone calls stop. If you write to the creditor that you cannot pay the debt and want them to cease further communication, it is against the law for them to call you or contact you, except for specific reasons. They can only call you or contact you if:

  • They want to let you know they will stop trying to collect the debt
  • They want to notify you that they may take other action to collect the debt, and what that action is (such as a lawsuit), OR they want to let you know they will be taking other action.

Contact you directly if you have an attorney: If you have an attorney, by law, the debt collector has to contact your attorney and communicate with your attorney, instead of communicating directly with you.

If you have been dealing with a debt collector's illegal practices for far too long, it's not too late to contact a consumer protection law firm. You can sue a debt collector for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If a debt collector is found to have used illegal practices, it doesn't take away the debt that you still owe, but you could receive damages caused by their illegal collection activity. Your rights matter, and you can fight back.

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