Debt collection can’t be an easy job, but some collectors seem to take things to the extreme when they attempt to collect on bad debt. While some of these practices are just business, some of them can be downright illegal. Knowing the difference can help you keep yourself protected as a consumer.
If you’ve faced an abusive collector and you think they crossed the line, don’t just sit back and take it! Call us or complete the form to the right to get started. We can also connect you with the right experts to find a solution for the debt, too.
What’s the most common type of collector harassment?
By category, the most common complaint (usually around 40 percent of the total received) every year is repeated or continual calling practices. This is where a collector practically acts like a jilted ex – your phone is just ringing off the hook for hours on end.
The next most common complaint was profane or abusive language used during a collections call. This accounts for just under about 15 percent of the total calls received. Calls before 8:00 A.M. or after 9:00 P.M. and threats of jails or violence round out the top four.
What to do when you think your rights are violated
Here are the steps you should follow if you think your rights have been violated during the collection process:
- Note the date and time when the abuse occurred, and the name of the representative if it occurred during a phone call. If the harassment occurs over a period of time, document it as carefully as possible.
- Check up on the FDCPA and verify for yourself that what happened to you violates the law.
- File your complaint with one of three agencies: FTC, CFPB or your state Attorney General’s office.
- Consider if you want to take additional action, such as pursuing a harassment suit which could lead to compensation if you can prove your case. We can connect you with professionals who can help you do this.
Examples of complaint-worthy violations
Here is a quick list of a few practices that would violate your rights and give you a reason to lodge a complaint with the FTC, CFPB or your state AG – at the very least. Again, keep in mind, that filing a complaint isn’t enough to get you compensation if you feel like you are owed something for the abuse you faced. You also have to file a case if you want to get compensation.
The following scenarios provide some clear examples of violations:
- The collector calls at 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning to discuss your debt.
- The collector calls your boss to complain about your debt and/or try to get you fired.
- The collector calls at midnight.
- You receive 20 calls in the same day from a single collector (regardless of how many times you actually pick up the phone to talk to them).
- The collector says they will be by tomorrow to repossess your car if you don’t agree to pay something now.
- The collector tells you cops are on their way to your house because you failed to pay what you owe.
- The collector curses at you and your unwillingness to pay (regardless of what kind of language you used on them).
- You have retained legal representation, yet the collector continues to call you directly.
- The collectors call all of the friends listed in your social network to let them know what a deadbeat you are and see if they feel like paying your debt.
Why should you file a fair debt collection complaint?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that protects you from harassing and abusive debt collection practices. When a collector crosses the line, filing a debt collection complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the first step you take in fighting back!
How to report a debt collector to the CFPB
- Make sure to have the following:
- Your contact information, including name, address, phone number and email
- The type of service or product involved
- Information about the offending company, including name, address, phone number, email address, website and representative’s name
- Details about the transaction and offense
- Go to the CFPB’s portal for debt collection complaints to get started.
- First, you’ll choose the type of debt, select a summary of your issue from a dropdown menu and then briefly describe the issue and potential resolution you wish to achieve.
- Then you will provide your information so you can be contacted as needed.
- After you review your complaint to ensure, you submit it for review.
3 Things to Know about Filing Debt Collection Complaints
#1: Filing a complaint may not resolve your issue
Note that filing a fair debt collection complaint does not mean the CFPB will resolve your individual case. They collect complaint data in order to build cases of fraud and habitual consumer abuse.
Simply filing a complaint with the CFPB does not mean the agency is going to actively work to resolve your specific situation on your behalf. You make them aware of the abuse and this may lead to a resolution. However, you may be required to take additional actions, such as issuing a cease and desist or filing a civil suit.
#2: The CFPB currently handles all federal complaints
The Federal Trade Commission originally handled debt collection complaints. However, the creation of the CFPB transferred all consumer issues related to financial products and services to oversight out of the FTC. You currently cannot file debt collection complaints with the FTC – they will simply refer you to consumerfinance.gov.
#3: Also make sure to file with your state Attorney General
State Attorney General’s offices may also bring class action lawsuits against a debt collection if they receive a significant number of complaints about the same agency. Go to your state Attorney General’s website and file a debt collection complaint there to ensure you’re entitled to money from any potential settlement.
Find solutions to settle collections and stop collector harassment.
Debt collection questions from our readers
Question: I’m getting really tired of being hassled for an old debt I don’t owe. I keep trying to explain to the debt collectors that I don’t owe the bill they keep trying to say I need to pay. What can I do?
Steve Rhode answers…
In a perfect world, you should not have to waste your time dealing with errors like this but sometimes stuff just happens and the biggest mistake you can make is not deal with it.
Being chased for a debt you don’t owe isn’t fun. I should know — it wasn’t long ago that a debt collector contacted me in an attempt to collect an old bridge toll due years ago from another state. Just a few problems, though: I didn’t live in the country at the time, owned no cars in the U.S., and had never owned one like the one they claimed incurred the toll. It took a bunch of back and forth communication and I had to send a certified letter to protect my right. But eventually, the matter was resolved and they went away.
When a debt collector contacts you about a debt you don’t owe, the first inclination is to take the issue personally, but don’t. Instead, look at the issue like a really annoying process.
The very first thing you should do when contacted is to ask the debt collector for proof you really owe the debt. You can use one of these five sample letters to ask for more information and protect your rights. You can even ask the debt collector to stop contacting you unless they can show evidence you really owe the debt.
While it is not necessary, it doesn’t hurt to send your letter by some type of traceable means to prove the debt collector received the letter within 30 days of contacting you. I certainly did that in my situation.
When people are first contacted by a debt collector they tend to get agitated and angry and wind up saying too much or the wrong thing. To avoid becoming on of those people, download the free ebook, “Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws,” by Gerri Detweiler and Mary Reed.
Be sure to read the chapter ‘When a Debt Collector Contacts You for the First Time’ to become incredibly smart about what to do. After you read it, you’ll be smarter than 99 percent of most consumers and prepared to handle the debt collector like an expert.
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy. He’s been helping people with personal finance troubles through advice and education since 1994. If you would like to ask a question, visit Get Out of Debt and let Steve help you for free.
Question: In March 2009 I settled a credit card debt through a collection agency at that time. They confirmed with an email entitled settlement agreement. Just the other day I received a letter from another debt collection agency stating I owe the entire amount or pay a settlement amount! Unfortunately, I cannot open the email file. I called the agency and told them this was settled 10 years ago with the date, etc. of my email. He asked me about the date I paid and apparently the date came up as he said he repeated it. He said someone would contact me within the hour, but no one has. I have called every day to speak to a machine and no one returns my call. What should I do?
Answer from Michelle Black, founder of CreditWriter.com…
Hearing from a collection agency can be a stressful and worrisome experience. It’s understandable that this call would concern you, especially since you already settled this collection account and it seems like a new debt collector may be trying to take advantage of you. First, sit back and take a deep breath. Based on your description of the situation, it is important that you don’t make any payments until you have confirmed your debts. Luckily, though, you’re also protected by several different laws.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
The first law that protects you is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Per the FCRA, negative accounts are only allowed to appear on your credit reports for a certain period of time. A collection account in particular can only legally stay on your credit report for up to seven years from the date of first delinquency on the original account.
Let’s say the worst-case scenario happens and the new collection agency tries to add this old, settled collection account to your credit reports. If that occurs, the FCRA gives you the right to dispute the outdated account with all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). There’s a good chance the account would be deleted from your credit reports with a dispute. However, it’s also possible that the account could be incorrectly verified after your dispute and remain on your credit reports. If that happened, you could likely find an attorney who specializes in the FCRA or consumer law who would be willing to take your case.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The second law that protects you is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA sets the rules that third-party debt collectors (like collection agencies) have to follow when they attempt to collect a debt.
According to the FDCPA, a debt collector isn’t allowed to purposely deceive you. So, trying to trick you into paying a debt you’ve already settled is off-limits. That’s not necessarily what’s going on in your situation, but it is a possibility to consider.
Another potential explanation is that your previously settled debt might have been accidentally sold to a new collection agency. In either scenario, the FDCPA gives you the right to send the new collection agency a letter stating that you don’t believe you owe the debt.
Per the Federal Trade Commission, it’s best to send this letter within 30 days of receiving your initial letter (aka validation notice) from the collection agency. If you make the deadline and send your response within 30 days, the collection agency must send you proof or “written verification of the debt,” such as a copy of a bill. It’s also wise to keep a copy of your letter and send it via certified mail with return receipt requested, in case you later need proof that you sent the request.
Finally, it’s possible that you are the victim of an attempted scam. If you think that may be the case you can report the call to the Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General.
Your state may have debt collection laws that protect you as well. For example, debt collectors only have so long to sue you over unpaid debts. Depending on the type of debt and the state where you lived when you took out the debt, that time frame is usually between three and 10 years. Once you’ve passed your state’s statute of limitations, the debt becomes time-barred.
Due to the age of the collection account (more than 10 years old) and the fact that it’s already been settled, there’s likely very little that the new collection agency can do to you, legally speaking. And, if the agency breaks the law and tries to take certain steps anyway (like reporting an outdated account to the credit bureaus), you might even have a legal cause of action against them.
If you feel like this could be a scam or that a collection agency is trying to violate your rights, it could be in your best interest to contact a reputable FCRA or FDCPA attorney for legal guidance.
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert with over 18 years of experience in the industry, a freelance writer, and a certified credit expert witness. She specializes in credit reporting, credit scoring, the intersection of credit and financing (business, mortgages, credit cards, loans), budgeting, and identity theft. Michelle is the founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com—blogs aimed at helping people take charge of their credit and finances so they can lead happier, less stressful lives. She’s a firm believer that everyone deserves a second chance (or a 20th chance) when it comes to money management and that any credit situation can be improved with the right plan and hard work. Michelle has written for numerous publications and websites. Her work has appeared with Experian, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and Reader’s Digest, among others.
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Article last modified on September 30, 2022. Published by Debt.com, LLC