Debt Collectors Won’t Stop Calling Me

What to do in Illinois if your phone won’t stop ringing

By Benjy Schirm

To be in debt is one of the most unsettling situations. With each ring of the phone, the stress, worry, and concern grow. Though it can seem hopeless, it isn’t always that way.

In fact, there are ways to protect yourself from constant calls and harassment; the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), for example, sets forth the ways that people can collect debts. “Many people don’t know that collecting debts is a highly regulated industry,” says attorney Alexander Taylor. “A lot of the threats and negative things they think they can get away with, and often do succeed with, are prohibited under this law.”

On top of the FDCPA, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) lays more protections to debtors. Here, there is a three-part test to determine a violation of debt collection practices over the phone.

  1. Are they calling your cell phone? 
  2. Do they have consent to call you? “Whenever you sign up for a credit card, you sign a bunch of forms that gives debt collectors consent to call you,” says Taylor. “Our argument has been, and what we think is the proper interpretation of the law is, that you can freely revoke this type of consent.”
  3. Are they using an auto dialer to call you? “This is the call-center recording-calling-you type calls, but any sort of human intervention cuts the definition of an auto-dialer,” says Taylor. 

“A lot of the time want to characterize debt collection as less than,” he continues, noting that most states have their own FDCPA laws that mirror the federal law—and some even expand protections to prevent banks from collecting with unfair practices. “But this is a legal and legitimate business in the United States, and there are perfectly legal ways to collect debt. It’s just that, when they step over the line, you have to hold them in check. They step over the line a lot, because they think that no one is going to check them.”

Being aware of these laws is great, but what can you actually do when your phone won’t stop ringing? “The first thing to do is to find out if it’s a scam or not, because we can’t really go after scam companies,” Taylor says. “These companies aren’t real companies—they ghost themselves, and generally route themselves through India, Africa or somewhere else. It’s very hard to go after these people, because even if we can find them and then sue them, they disappear. In the end, they don’t really have any assets either.”

The good news is that any threats from a scam company won’t actually happen. If you never give them any money, they will stop calling. “Their whole purpose in calling is to get money, and if they know they aren’t going to get any money from you, then it’s a waste of their time,” says Taylor.

If it’s not a scam-caller calling you, keep a log of the date and times of calls. Another best practice for the real debt collectors is to not be rude.

“One of the things we often deal with is a collector calling wrong parties. If you don’t owe anything, and they just keep calling you, still don’t be rude,” says Taylor. “They will—or should—confirm your information; if they don’t, it is an FDCPA violation. If they disclose information without confirming your identity, that is a violation of federal law.

“If you want them to stop calling you, tell them to stop calling you,” he continues. “Then send them a letter asking not to call. If they still call after that, then call a reputable and experienced attorney, because at that point, they are starting to violate these laws.”

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