Having a debt in collections is never fun, but it should never be abusive. When a collector crosses the line from aggressively seeking payment to threatening or harassing you, they violate the law. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Acts protects consumers’ rights to ensure all collectors do their jobs professionally without personal attacks.
The articles in this section all focus on debt collection and how to handle your collection accounts the right way. Whether you’re trying to hide from collectors or face harassment over a debt isn’t even yours, these articles can help. Learn the right way to deal with your debts so you can move on quickly and minimize the hassle.
10 common debt collections tricks that violate your rights
If a debt collector does any of these ten things, they violate regulations set out in the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. That means they’re breaking the law and you have a right to sue them for collector harassment.
#1: Threats of jailtime
To be perfectly clear: Debt collectors cannot send you to jail. There is no such thing as debtor’s prison in the U.S. and there hasn’t been since the 1800’s. Even if a debt collector sues you in court, you will never face time in prison or even probation.
Lawsuits over debt are always civil, which means the worst a verdict can do is force you to pay what you owe. They do that through things like wage and tax refund garnishment. No court anywhere in the U.S. would send a citizen to jail over a collection account.
#2: Physical threats of harm
If a collector threatens to break your legs or send someone out to beat you up, they violate your rights. It’s crazy to think that you’d even have to worry about this kind of abuse out of debt collector, but it happens. They want to act tough and threaten you into paying, so a few bad apples with intimidate you with physical abuse.
Threatening someone’s life or saying you are going to physically harm them is illegal even if it doesn’t come from a debt collector. Threats from collectors are doubly bad, because they also violate the FDCPA.
#3: Verbal abuse
Debt collectors are expected to maintain a calm, professional demeanor. That’s not explicitly stated in the FDCPA, but it does state that a collector can’t use profanity or obscene language. They have to keep it clean or you have a right to sue for collector harassment.
#4: Constant calls
There is not set number of how many times a collector can call to be considered harassment. However, there is a set rule about not calling repeatedly. If a collector calls you 20 times a day, every day for a week, that more than likely counts. It also counts if they call you 50 or 100 times in a single day trying to get you to answer the phone.
There are also rules about when they can call. They can’t call before 8:00AM each day in your time zone or after 9:00PM. They also can’t call on Sundays or national holidays.
#5: Credit blacklists
Unlike the threats listed above that obviously cross the line, this one is not as obvious. If a collector says they can permanently blacklist from ever getting new credit, it’s illegal. They also can’t put your name on some kind of blacklist so other creditors know not to work with you.
A credit blacklist is about as real as debtor’s prison. It just doesn’t exist. There is no list of people barred from getting credit. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing you can do that would damage your credit permanently. The U.S. credit system is designed to allow people to recover.
If you don’t pay a collector, the collection account appears as a negative item on your credit report that remains for seven years. That’s it. No blacklists. No permanent credit damage.
#6: Shaming you into paying
Debt collectors are not allowed to announce to the world that you have debt and don’t pay it. This includes a number of things:
- They can’t send you notices or postcards with your debt printed where others can see it
- They can’t contact your friends and family to talk about how bad you are with debt
- They can only contact your employer to verify your identity, but they can’t talk about anything else.
- They can’t come to your neighborhood and post signs about your refusal to pay or use a megaphone to blast out how irresponsible you are
- They can’t jump on social networks to let everyone know you’re behind
Your debt is between you and the collector. So, while they can use your employer, family or social networks to verify your identity, they can’t use those outlets to humiliate you into making a payment.
#7: Ignoring your requests
The FDCPA states that you can communicate with a collector about when and how you want them to contact you. If you make a request, they must honor it. So, if you say you don’t wish to receive calls on Saturday and then they call in the middle of your playdate with your kids, you have a collector harassment claim.
This also works for stating that you no longer wish to be contacted at all. If you state (it’s usually better in writing) that you don’t want to be contacted, a collector’s only recourse is to see you in court. It’s better in writing (with return receipt requested) because that gives you paper trail proof that you make the request.
#8: Unauthorized taking of property
Debt collectors do not have a repo-man waiting to take your property if you don’t pay. If they do, it’s illegal. Again, any attempt to force you into paying must be done through the court. That means that if a collector tells you they can come take your car or home or any other property because you failed to pay, it’s a lie.
What’s more, even if they go through the court, you usually don’t have to worry about property repossession. A court will usually order wage or tax refund garnishment to force you to make payments. In some cases, they may place liens on property, but that just prevents you from selling it until the lien is cleared.
Even if bankruptcy, it’s not guaranteed that your assets will be liquidated to pay your debts. That only happens in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, not Chapter 13. What’s more, even in Chapter 7, some assets are protected. You can keep a car up to a certain value and avoid foreclosure on a primary residence up to a certain value.
#9: Impersonating people with more authority
Debt collectors are not allowed to act like they are someone with more authority to negatively impact your life. This means they can act like government employees, including IRS agents (this is the most common). They can’t impersonate police officers. They can’t even represent themselves as attorneys.
They also can’t dress up their correspondence to look like it’s from a government agency or legal document.
#10: Add penalties or increase what you owe
The debt you owe at the time the creditor sells it to a collection agency is what you owe. A debt collector cannot increase what you owe in any way. They can’t add interest charges and they can’t levy additional penalties. They also can’t misrepresent the amount you owe. If they do, they violate the regulations created by the FDCPA.