How Do I Stop Debt Collection Abuse?
How to stop debt collection harassment and other unfair collection practicesBy Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 13, 2023
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What Is Considered Debt Collector Harassment?
- How Do I Stop Harassing Debt Collector Contact?
- Does Reporting Harassment Eliminate My Debt?
- Getting Legal Advice from an Attorney
Owing money to a business or lender and struggling to make payments is stressful enough. Harassing phone calls from a debt collection agency takes a bad situation and makes it worse.
Debt collection harassment is not just stressful. It’s often counterproductive to the goal of paying off your debts. And it’s illegal.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from harassment from debt collection agencies. The FDCPA covers many types of debt, including:
- Credit card debt
- Car loans
- Medical bills
- Student loans
An important limitation of the FDCPA is that it only applies to debt collection agencies or those who regularly collect debts. It doesn’t apply to creditors such as businesses or lenders trying to collect their own debts. However, many states have laws modeled on the FDCPA that apply to creditors directly.
This article will cover prohibited debt collection practices under the FDCPA and some specific actions to stop harassment. As with any area of law, it’s essential to consult with a lawyer about your particular situation.
What Is Considered Debt Collector Harassment?
When it comes to debt collection practices, “there’s a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which everybody should be aware of,” says Wisconsin debtor-creditors’ rights attorney Seth E. Dizard.
“There are also state laws. Wisconsin, for example, has the Consumer Act. It doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s what I could call a trap for the unwary.”
The FDCPA applies to individuals who collect debts on behalf of creditors, not creditors themselves. Collectors include:
- Debt collection agencies
- Attorneys who regularly collect debts
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors may not:
- Harass you. Harassment includes:
- Threats of violence or harm to you or your family
- Profanity or obscene language, including slurs and insults
- Repeated phone calls to irritate you
- Collection calls before 8 am and after 9 pm
- Lie or deceive you. Collectors can’t:
- Lie about the amount of money you owe
- Say there is a lawsuit against you when there isn’t
- Say they are taking actions against you, such as wage garnishment or property seizure, when they are not, or when such activities are illegal
- Pretend to be law enforcement or an attorney
- Treat you unfairly. Unfair collection practices go beyond harassment and include:
- Revealing your debts to the public
- Collecting more than you owe
- Depositing post-dated checks before the date
Additionally, under Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) debt collection rules, debt collectors must send a written notice of the debts when they first contact debtors or soon after first contact.
Whether electronic or physical, the written notice is called a validation notice and gives key information about the debt collection, including:
- The name of the creditor and contact info
- The amount of the debt
- Rights of the debtor
- How to dispute the debt
If you don’t receive a validation notice with the required information, you can file a complaint with the CFPB.
If you respond to the validation notice within 30 days to request information about the original creditor or to dispute the debt, the agency must cease collection until they answer your request or dispute.
How Do I Stop Harassing Debt Collector Contact?
The first step to stopping debt collection harassment is to send the debt collector a letter telling them to cease further contact. You can look at this sample letter for phrasing and information to include.
When sending a cease-and-desist letter to a debt collector, be sure to use certified mail and get a return receipt so you have proof of having sent the letter. It’s also wise to keep a copy of the letter as additional proof.
Suppose the debt collector continues to engage in harassing, deceptive, or unfair behaviors after you have sent a letter telling them to stop. In that case, you can report the debt collector to the following:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Your state attorney general’s office
Does Reporting Harassment Eliminate My Debt?
The answer to this question is: no.
If you owe money to someone, reporting debt collection abuse does not eliminate your debts—it only stops the abusive collection activities.
Stopping communication from harassing debt collectors is beneficial and within your rights. However, just because debt collectors no longer reach out to you doesn’t mean your debt has gone away.
The longer you wait to deal with debt, the worse your financial situation will likely become, and the fewer options you will have for dealing with debt.
If you have debts you are struggling to repay, speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
Getting Legal Advice from an Attorney
“I think that good legal advice is almost exactly the same as having a good insurance policy. Nobody bats an eye at getting an insurance policy for protection. No one should bat an eye at getting legal advice for similar protection,” says Dizard.
Fortunately, many attorneys provide free consultations to prospective clients. These consultations allow the attorney to hear about your case and for you to see if the attorney meets your needs.
To see whether an attorney is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:
- What are your attorney’s fees, and how do you bill your clients?
- How do I stop debt collectors I don’t want to contact me?
- How do I report abusive debt collection practices?
- How will debt collection impact my credit report?
- What is the statute of limitations for legal action against debt collectors?
- What are my options for paying off my debts?
- How do I create a repayment plan with creditors?
- When should I consider filing for bankruptcy?
It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can give you legal help through your entire case. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
If you need legal assistance with debtor-creditor issues, consider looking for a debtor and creditor rights attorney.
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