.Debt collectors have a large financial incentive to get you to pay your debts. The debt collector has likely purchased your debt for a steep discount, so their sole interest is getting you to pay. They often earn significant returns when their collection efforts succeed.
The first time you learn that a new company wants to collect a debt is usually when the debt collector calls you. Some debt collectors remain professional in their contact with you. Others can cross a line by harassing or abusing you.
Federal and state laws prohibit harassment, deception, and abuse. While you might receive communications from collection companies, never endure abuse or harassment. You can take legal action when the debt collector violates the law.
Below are some tips for dealing with abusive debt collectors. However, the most important thing you can do is consult a FDCPA attorney. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the actions of debt collectors and advise on potential legal action. Seeking relief for the conduct you experienced can improve your situation.
Remain Calm at All Times
It is easier said than done to stay calm when persistent and abusive debt collectors harass you. Every part of your being wants to stand up for yourself and counter the abuse. You likely want to yell at them and fire back. It is a natural human instinct not to want to take abuse.
It does not help your case to lose your calm when dealing with a debt collector. If you file a lawsuit about their actions, they can turn around and claim that it was a two-way argument. They may even claim that you initiated any conflict. Then, it becomes a case of your word against theirs.
Although it may take every ounce of restraint and some superhuman powers, you must remain calm when dealing with a debt collector.
Do Not Argue with Them
You might want to argue with the debt collector, especially if they insult you or become abusive. Nothing good can come from arguing with a debt collector. They are looking for one thing and one thing only. They want you to pay your debt as soon as possible. Nothing you can do or say will satisfy them, and feeling like you have won the fight is simply not worth it. You should end the conversation before you begin arguing with the debt collector.
Be Skeptical of Everything They Say
The debt collector’s only power is to take your case to court and obtain a judgment against you. If you do not pay the debt, it is what they will likely do.
The debt collector wants you to pay them right now without them having to take you to court. They will make a large amount of money because they have likely bought your debt for pennies on the dollar. Quick payment is a big win for them because they do not even have to go to the effort or expense of starting a court case.
The debt collector may say whatever it takes to scare you right now. They will often resort to deception and outright lies to frighten you. They may even pretend to have an affiliation with a lawyer, and threaten that they have the power to arrest you or get you fired from your job.
The debt collector does not have the power they represent, and you should take everything they say with the proverbial grain of salt. They may own your debt but not have additional power over you.
Verbally Tell Them to Stop Contacting You
Under federal law, you can limit when a debt collector can contact you. If you verbally tell them to stop calling, they must honor your wishes. If you instruct them not to call you when you are at work, they must only call when you tell them. You must be very specific in what you say. If you do not want to receive further calls, make it clear to them that they will not call you again. You should specify that if you want no contact (including letters).
You Can Hang Up the Phone
Nothing says that you must remain on the phone with the debt collector. You have the right and the ability to end the conversation when you want. After all, they are the ones who called you. If the debt collector takes the conversation to an abusive place, you can hang up on them. If they call you back again, feel free to hang up again.
Follow Up With a Written Letter
Put everything in writing for your lawyer to send. This way, you have documentation telling the debt collector to stop contacting you. If you eventually file a lawsuit against the debt collector, you have written proof that you directed them not to contact you.
In this letter, you must clearly limit the debt collector’s contact. If you tell them to stop calling you, they can continue to send you letters. Clearly tell them what they cannot do.
In addition, if the debt collector acted in an abusive way, detail what they did in the letter. It helps to have contemporaneous documentation of your version of events that you can use if your case goes to court. Of course, keep a copy of this letter for your records. Sending it by certified mail so you have a record that the debt collector received it.
You should know that telling the debt collector to stop contacting you does not end their overall debt collection efforts. They can and will continue the legal process to obtain and enforce a judgment on whether they can talk to you. Ceasing communication means they cannot write or call you while working on their legal action.
Keep Documentation of the Calls
Your state’s laws may not allow you to record the phone calls. In some states, you can end up in legal jeopardy if you record a telephone call without the other party’s consent. Never record a call unless your lawyer instructs you how to legally do so.
You should write down what you remember of the conversation while it is fresh in your mind. In addition, keep your phone records to show how often the debt collector contacted you (if you are trying to prove harassment).
Document How You Have Suffered
As you can see below, you may be eligible for financial compensation based on how you have suffered due to unlawful debt collection practices. If the debt collector’s abuse causes you particularized damages, such as emotional distress or severe anxiety, they should pay you for it. While money cannot repair the mental harm they caused, it can provide justice and support for you.
Accordingly, document your damages if you need to file a lawsuit. If you experienced anxiety or depression, document it in a journal, possibly an online file with metadata to demonstrate the timing of your entries. If you had to spend money (or you lost money), save the documentation and provide it to your lawyer.
Contact an Experienced Consumer Protection Lawyer
It may be hard to deal with and stand up to an abusive debt collector alone. You may not feel confident, especially when you owe money. Further, you may not know your rights under federal and state law. It is a daunting prospect having to handle a debt collector who seems willing to stop at nothing to get you to pay.
You do not have to deal with the debt collector on your own. Consumer protection lawyers have detailed knowledge of your rights under state and federal law. They have experience dealing with debt collectors and taking action on behalf of those abused.
The good news is that it does not cost you money out of your pocket to get legal help. An attorney who deals with debt collection works for you on a contingency basis. You do not need to pay them money upfront, nor do you need to pay them hourly charges during your case. They only receive legal fees if you win, and a court may even order the debt collector to pay your legal costs in recovering compensation.
The Law Is on Your Side
Federal and state law will be on your side if the debt collector has abused or harassed you. Congress specifically took action against abusive debt collection practices when it passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in 1977. Congress held extensive hearings detailing some horror stories of abusive debt collection practices.
Simply stated, it is never acceptable for a debt collector to subject you to abuse. Not only is it morally wrong, it violates the law.
The debt collector can face various consequences for what they have done. First, the Federal Trade Commission can take enforcement action against them, levying a fine or shutting the company down.
Your state attorney general can also take strong legal action. Your state also has laws that protect debtors from abusive debt-collection practices. The state attorney general can take action. If the debt collector has threatened you in a manner that violates criminal laws, they can even face criminal charges for their conduct.
You Can File a Lawsuit Against the Debt Collector
One of the most crucial parts of the FDCPA is the private right of action mechanism that allows you to file a lawsuit directly against the debt collector for breaking the law. In effect, you can be your private attorney general in taking legal action (with the help of your lawyer).
You can receive damages if you win your case and the court finds the debt collector violated the FDCPA.
The damages in your case can include:
- $1,000 in statutory damages for the debt collector’s breaking the law (the $1,000 is per case against the debt collector and not for each violation)
- Emotional distress for the mental harm to you
- Medical costs to treat any condition that you may have developed because of the illegal conduct
- Lost income, if your condition prevented you from working
Depending on your state’s law, you can obtain punitive damages for egregious conduct that shocks a jury.
Since you will allege emotional abuse, you may not join a class action lawsuit. Your damages will differ from other potential plaintiffs, so you will seek a particularized measure of damages based on your situation.
After severe abuse (for example, a debt collector telling you they will dig up your loved one for an unpaid funeral bill), you may even sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. To win this type of case, your attorney must show that someone else acted in an extreme manner to cause you emotional distress.
You Need Help From an Experienced Consumer Protection Attorney
You will have to go through an extensive legal process to receive a check for what you endured, even when the facts are on your side. An experienced consumer protection attorney can present the evidence and argue why you deserve compensation. They may negotiate a settlement to your case if the defendant wants to reduce their legal risk.