Debt Collection Harassment Laws

Debt collection harassment laws can help you protect your rights. Learn how here.

You are reading Debt Collection Answers Chapter 1, part 5. If you did not start at the beginning of this free guide to dealing with debt collectors, please return to the Debt collection Answers introduction.

What Debt Collectors Cannot Do to Collect a Debt

State and federal debt collection harassment laws can protect you from debt collection abuse. Following are protections offered under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA says that debt collectors who want to collect a debt from you cannot:

  • Threaten you with violence or use violence in order to get you to pay a debt. Threaten to harm your reputation.
  • Use obscene, profane or abusive language when communicating with you. Racial slurs are also prohibited.
  • Include your name on a list of debtors and provide that list to an individual or business, except to a credit reporting agency and to any other business or individual who is legally authorized to receive your consumer credit record information under the FCRA.
  • Call you repeatedly with the intent of annoying, abusing, or harassing you. The law doesn’t specify how many calls are “too many,” but calling several times a day or a week or calling you over and over again within a relatively short period of time  — during the morning or afternoon, for example — would probably be viewed as a violation of the FDCPA.
  • Send you a letter or a notice that appears to come from an attorney when it does not.
  • Threaten to ruin your credit forever.
  • Falsely imply that a document they have sent to you is a legal document or that they’ve taken legal action against you when they have not. For example, a debt collector cannot try to scare you into paying a debt by mailing you a document that looks like a court summons when it is not.
  • Falsely claim that they are affiliated with a credit bureau by using the words “credit bureau” on their letterhead and/or on the envelopes they use to communicate with you about a debt.
  • Threaten to tell your employer about your debt.
  • Imply or represent that they are in any way affiliated with the federal government, a state government, or with a law enforcement agency. Debt collectors can’t pretend to be law enforcement officers and cannot use letterhead, envelopes, or a company name that makes it appear as though their correspondence has come from the federal government, a state government, or from a law enforcement agency if they are not working for that agency.
  • Represent or imply that they are attorneys unless they are. Also, debt collectors cannot contact you on an attorney’s letterhead if the attorney has not reviewed information related to your debt.  
  • Misrepresent the “character, amount, or legal status” of a debt that you owe. For example, a debt collector cannot exaggerate the amount of money that you owe or try to collect a debt that you discharged (or wiped out) through a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy.
  • Sue you to collect a debt after the statute of limitations on the debt has expired.
  • Put pressure on your parents or another relative to pay your debt for you or to get you to pay your debt yourself, unless that person/s co-signed the debt.
  • Put you at a legal disadvantage by sending you a notice or legal document related to a debt that you owe and leading you to believe that you do not need to respond to the notice/document.

    Example: Let’s assume that a debt collector sends you a summons — an official notice telling you that you have been sued and when you must appear in court for your trial. After you receive the summons, you call the debt collector who agrees to let you settle your debt for less than what you owe on it. During your conversation, the debt collector leads you to believe that because you’ve settled the debt he will cancel your trial. However, the debt collector does not do so and because the trial goes forward without you, the judge automatically awards the debt collector a default judgment against you, which entitles the debt collector to use various tools in order to try to collect the judgment from you. Among other things, those tools may include taking assets that you own and garnishing your wages, if wage garnishment is legal in your state.
  • Use false, deceptive, or misleading means to pressure you into paying a debt. This means that a debt collector cannot threaten you with dire consequences if you don’t pay a debt, unless the collector has the means and the legal authority to follow through on the threat and intends to do so. For example, a debt collector cannot threaten to sue you, put you in jail, garnish your wages without a court order, seize and sell your property, repossess your home, put a lien on an asset that you own, cause you to lose your job, etc., unless the debt collector is legally entitled to do so and intends to do so. We discuss this in more detail later in the book.

How to put debt collection harassment laws to work for you

If a debt collector takes any of the actions on the preceding list, get a free consultation with a consumer law attorney right away. You should also file a complaint against the debt collector with the FTC and with your state attorney general’s office. Your attorney can tell you if your state has its own debt collection harassment laws and if the debt collector’s action is prohibited by state law.

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