You never want to get a call from a debt collector. Regardless of why you still owe the debt, you might feel shame and discomfort when reminded you did not pay as you should have. If you paid the debt, you might worry you need to pay a debt that you already satisfied.
Furthermore, debt collectors do not necessarily use the most pleasant tone when they contact you. Some may even disrespect or even threaten you. Some debt collectors will contact you repeatedly, even harassing you.
The debt collector has likely bought your debt for pennies on the dollar, and they will earn a handsome return if they can get you to pay. Thus, they will use several tactics to prevail on you to repay the debt you owe that they now owe. Some debt collectors will operate in a legitimate manner that is above board and follow laws. Others may cross the line and violate federal or state law in contacting and speaking with you.
If a debt collector harassed you, speak with a debt collector harassment lawyer. The right law firm can assess your rights to seek relief for the harm you endured from unlawful debt collection activities.
How Debt Collectors Harass and Intimidate You
Companies often train collectors to do whatever it takes to get a debtor to pay in full.
Debt collectors may use the following wrongful tactics when they are trying to pressure you:
- Calling you at all hours of the day
- Calling you repeatedly
- Calling you at work and letting your coworkers or supervisors know that a debt collector is contacting you
- Threatening you that you can go to jail for the failure to pay your debt
- Using an abusive or threatening tone when they are speaking to you
- Use obscene or profane language when speaking with you
Debt Collectors Cannot Mislead or Lie to You
Debt collectors are also not allowed to make false representations when trying to collect a debt from you. They may try to deceive you to get you to pay your debt. For example, they can claim they are affiliated with the United States Government or an attorney. Their false statements intend to make you believe you will be in serious legal jeopardy if you do not pay your debt.
Debt Collection Horror Stories About Deplorable Tactics
There are always horror stories about the deplorable tactics debt collectors use to scare or harass people into paying debts.
In some cases, debt collectors have:
- Threatened to take away a debtor’s children
- Threatened to dig up a body over an unpaid funeral expense
- Posing as a law firm (and even charging bogus attorney’s fees with debt repayment)
- Called coworkers to tell them that the debt collector was going to arrest the debtor
- Threatening to shoot or otherwise harm a family pet if you do not immediately pay the debt
One of the most common forms of intimidation is giving the impression that the debt collector has some sort of legal authority. Some debt collectors have gone to great lengths to make it seem like they have legal power.
The debt collector does not need to call you more than once if they use shocking and deplorable tactics. One egregious call can be enough to break federal law.
Debt Collectors Cannot Do Anything That They Want
The fact that you may be behind on your debts does not mean that you lack legal rights. Debt collectors do not have carte blanche to do and say what they want however they want. You have the right to stop their wrongful conduct and take action regarding violations of your legal rights.
First, make the debt collector fully identify themselves when they contact you. They must state their name clearly and that they are a debt collector. They must clearly state the name of their company or organization.
You Can Stop Debt Collectors From Contacting You
The first thing that you should do is put a stop to the phone calls. The debt collector may have your phone number but cannot use it at their discretion. Legally, they may only have one chance to call you if you do not want to receive calls. You will have to tell them not to contact you anymore, and the debt collector will need to honor and respect your wishes.
You can tell the debt collector not to call you at certain times. For example, if you do not want calls while you are at work, you can tell that to the debt collector. They will then need to call you outside work hours.
You can tell the debt collector to stop all communication with you. It will not stop them from taking action to collect on the debt, but they will be unable to contact you for their collection efforts.
You should communicate this to the debt collector in a written letter or email. The letter should instruct the debt collector to cease and desist from contacting you. This way, you have a record that you have asked the debt collector to stop contacting you that you can use in a future lawsuit.
Keep Calm When Speaking to a Debt Collector
Never argue with the debt collector personally, no matter how upset you are with their harassment. Speak firmly but without emotion. Losing your temper with them does not help you.
You do not need to fear the debt collector personally. They cannot hurt you or anyone you love. They can take action to collect the debt, but they cannot do anything other than that. Some people panic because they fear the debt collector has the power to do them harm and follow through on threats. To collect the debt, all they can do is communicate with you, and you do not have to tolerate threatening or harassing conduct.
There is no reason you even need to repeatedly deal with the debt collector unless you are trying to work out a payment plan. Otherwise, you do not have to listen to them while they try to use questionable tactics. You are free to hang up on them as you choose.
Be Cautious When Recording the Debt Collector
Never record a phone conversation with anyone unless your lawyer tells you how to do so legally. Some states do not allow you to record a phone call without someone else’s consent.
If you can record the conversation legally, you can prove what the debt collector said to you.
Access and maintain your phone logs. These can prove how often the debt collector called you and when these calls occurred.
If you believe that a debt collector harassed you, contact an attorney. They can help you take action that can get justice for what the debt collector did.
Federal Law Does Not Allow Debt Collectors to Harass You
Federal law limits the practices debt collectors can utilize. Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to balance the interests of creditors while curtailing abusive debt collection practices.
Debt collectors may contact you to collect, subject to rules. If they break those rules, you can file a lawsuit.
Filing a Complaint About Abusive Debt Collection Practices
You have several options for how to respond to abusive debt collectors. You can pursue one or all of them. First, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency that regulates debt collectors. The FTC can take enforcement action against the debt collector, including levying a fine. In some cases, the FTC has even banned the debt collector from the business.
However, an FTC complaint punishes the debt collector instead of getting compensation for the harm they did to you.
Then you can also contact your state attorney general. These offices act to protect consumers from abuses. The state attorney general can investigate and file civil charges against the debt collector. They can also potentially shut down the debt collector.
Filing a Lawsuit Under the FDCPA
If you have complained to the government, you can also file a lawsuit against the debt collector directly. The FDCPA contains a section that allows victims of abusive debt collection practices to receive compensation. You can file a claim when a debt collector has harassed you.
If you win your FDCPA lawsuit, you may be entitled to the following damages:
- The emotional distress that you experienced from the debt collector’s abusive practices
- Medical bills to treat physical and psychological conditions that you developed as a result of the harassment
- Lost income, if you missed time from work or your earnings capacity suffered as a result of the harassment
- The court may also award statutory damages of up to $1,000 (per lawsuit, and not per violation, although a court recently held that the $1000 award was for each defendant)
The bulk of your damages will come from what the debt collector’s behavior has done to you personally. Thus, hiring an attorney who can tell your story effectively to maximize your damages is crucial.
Class Action Lawsuits Against a Debt Collector
You may also consider a class action lawsuit against the debt collector if other similarly situated debtors have experienced harassment.
The debt collector may need to pay the lesser of:
- One percent of their net worth
The court may also issue an injunction in cases to prevent certain conduct. For example, they can prohibit the debt collector from contacting you in certain ways.
State Lawsuits for Illegal Debt Collection Practices
Your state may also have consumer protection laws prohibiting abusive debt collection practices. Your attorney will review your case and the laws of your state to help you determine where it will be most advantageous for you to file your case.
You can recover even greater damages in a state lawsuit because your state may allow for punitive damages in a lawsuit (which are not allowed in federal court). Further, you can file lawsuits based on the FDCPA in federal or state court. Your attorney will help you choose the best forum for your case.
Contact an Attorney if Debt Collectors Harassed You
You must contact a consumer protection lawyer once you have experienced harassment. Your lawyer can help you gather evidence to document and prove your case. They can also help you evaluate your legal options to pursue compensation. If the conduct still occurs, your lawyer can help you try to stop it.
The critical takeaway is that you do not need to live in fear of a debt collector. If the debt collector does something that intimidates you, they are probably breaking the law. Then, you may seek financial compensation. You do not need to pay an attorney anything upfront to discuss your case. You may only need to pay when you win, but the FDCPA allows for payment of your legal fees when you win your case.