How can I sue a debt collector for harassment?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is the federal law that protects consumers from unfair, threatening, excessive debt collection tactics that cross line from being aggressive to being downright abusive.
The FDCPA also stipulates that a debt collector who knowingly violates the FDCPA may be sued by a consumer in civil court. This allows to the consumer to collection FDCPA violations damages. In other words, you can get money for being the victim of collector abuse.
Abusive debt collectors may also violate collection regulations in your state, which can lead to additional judgments and damages assessed if the agency is found to be culpable.
How debt collection lawsuits work
- You have two options when you sue a debt collector:
- You can hire a state-licensed attorney to file a claim in state court for FDCPA violations
- You can file a claim in small claims court, which may be faster and does not require a state-licensed attorney
- Depending on which option you choose, the process may be slightly different:
- In state court:
- You must prove that the debt collector violated FDCPA regulations.
- If successful, you can collect up to $1,000 in statutory damages.
- In state court:
- Additional actual damages may be assessed if you can prove the violation caused harm.
- Attorney’s fees and costs for the suit are usually rolled in with actual damages, so the net cost to do this may be $0 (if you win.
- In small claims court:
- You file a simple court document to start the case, which usually goes to court within a few months.
- The judge will hear the case in a single hearing; you do not need an attorney to do this.
- The judge will either enter a ruling there in court or take the case “under submission,” which means they mail you the ruling after deliberation.
- The amount you can receive in damages in small claims court varies by state
3 things to understand about debt collection lawsuits
#1: Make sure there was actually a FDCPA violation
If you sue a debt collector for FDCPA violations and don’t have any proof your rights were violated, the court may find you filed your suit “in bad faith.” A countersuit may be filed for a suit made in bad faith and you could be on the hook.
#2: Don’t let violations go unchecked either
Statistics show only about one out of every four complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is also pursued in civil court. While you may just want the collector to leave you alone, you may be leaving money on the table if you don’t pursue damages.
#3: Losses may also be recouped with a class action lawsuit
If you feel like you’re being harassed by a collector, file a complaint with the CFPB and your state Attorney General’s office. If enough complaints are issued against the same collector, federal or state Attorney General’s offices may decide to follow a class action lawsuit.
If the AG wins the case, then anyone who filed a complaint may have a claim to a portion of the fine the company would be required to pay.