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How to Handle Illegal Debt Collection Practices and Harassment



How to Handle Illegal Debt Collection Practices and Harassment

Dealing with debt collectors can be super stressful. I get it — I’ve been there myself! When you’re struggling to make ends meet, the last thing you need is someone harassing you all hours of the day about money you don’t have.

But here’s the thing — debt collectors have to follow certain rules. They can’t just do whatever they want to get you to pay up. There are laws to protect folks like you and me from harassment.

In this article, I’ll go over what debt collectors can and can’t do, what to do if you’re being harassed, and how to protect your rights. I know this stuff inside out, so I’ll break it down nice and simple. My goal is to empower you to deal with shady debt collectors like a pro!

What Counts as Harassment from Debt Collectors?

There’s a federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that makes it illegal for debt collectors to harass, abuse, or deceive you. Here are some examples of illegal harassment tactics debt collectors often use:

  • Calling you constantly – like 20 times a day!
  • Using threatening language, like “We’ll ruin your credit if you don’t pay up”
  • Lying and saying they’ll sue you or have you arrested
  • Contacting you at work when they know your boss doesn’t allow it
  • Calling super late at night or early in the morning
  • Talking to your friends, family, boss or coworkers about your debt
  • Sending letters or legal notices marked “urgent” that look like they’re from a court or government agency when they’re not

Get the picture? Debt collectors aren’t allowed to be bullies. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), harassment involves “repetitious and excessive communications” meant to “abuse” or “annoy” you.

What to Do if a Debt Collector is Harassing You

If a debt collector is crossing the line, you have options. Here are some smart ways to deal with harassment:

  1. Tell them to stop contacting you. Send a cease and desist letter demanding all communication stop immediately. Here’s a sample cease and desist letter from the CFPB.
  2. Report them. File complaints with the CFPB and your state attorney general’s office. Provide details on the harassment.
  3. Sue them. You can take legal action if a debt collector violates the FDCPA. Damages can be up to $1,000 plus attorneys fees.
  4. Talk to a lawyer. Consult with a consumer rights attorney to understand your options. Many lawyers offer free consultations.
  5. Dispute the debt. Challenge inaccurate or unfair debts in writing. Get a copy of your credit reports to review debts.
  6. Protect yourself. Don’t share sensitive info or make payments without verifying debts first. Get everything in writing.

The bottom line — you have rights! Don’t let shady collectors pressure or intimidate you. And don’t ignore serious harassment, because it usually won’t stop on its own. Taking action can force collectors to back off.

Watch Out for Unfair and Abusive Practices

Along with harassment, the FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from engaging in unfair or abusive practices. Here are some common examples:

  • Falsely implying they’re attorneys or government reps
  • Misrepresenting the amount you owe
  • Threatening to sue you or garnish wages when they have no grounds to
  • Trying to collect expired debts that are too old to be legally enforceable
  • Depositing post-dated checks before the date on the check
  • Adding unauthorized fees or interest to debts

Debt collectors also can’t pretend legal action is about to happen when it’s not. For example, they might send a letter full of legal lingo giving you a deadline to respond. But if it’s not an actual court document, it’s BS designed to scare you into paying.

Bottom line — debt collectors have to be upfront and truthful. If they’re playing fast and loose with the facts, that’s illegal.

Don’t Tolerate Deceptive Tactics Either

Debt collectors are prohibited from deceiving or misleading you while trying to collect. Here are some typical deceptive tactics:

  • Using false names or phone numbers
  • Sending official-looking documents that are actually fake
  • Claiming debts will be “forgiven” if you pay by a certain date when that’s not true
  • Misrepresenting that they operate or work for a credit bureau
  • Falsely threatening to ruin your credit or get you fired if you don’t pay

Get the idea? Trickery and deception are big no-nos. Debt collectors have to be honest and transparent. If they’re trying to pull a fast one, that violates federal law.

How to Report Illegal Debt Collection Practices

If a debt collector crosses the line, it’s important to report them right away. This helps protect your rights and can stop the abuse. Here are two great places to file complaints:

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): This federal watchdog agency handles complaints about debt collectors. File a complaint online or call 855-411-2372.
  • Your state attorney general: Look up your state AG online and visit their website for info on reporting debt collectors. Your AG can investigate and take action against violations.

When you file a complaint, provide as much evidence as possible. Save voicemails, letters, payment receipts and keep detailed notes. The more proof you have, the better.

You can also report debt collectors to the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. The more complaints these shady operators receive, the more likely regulators are to take action.

Sue Debt Collectors Who Break the Law

If a debt collector illegally harasses or deceives you, you have the right to sue them for damages. Under the FDCPA, you can recover up to $1,000 plus attorneys fees and court costs. A successful lawsuit also pays the debt collector back for mistreating you!

Many consumer rights law firms offer free case reviews. They can analyze the collector’s violations and discuss your options. If you have a strong case, an attorney may take it on “contingency,” meaning legal fees come out of any winnings.

Damages can add up fast in class action suits where many consumers were wronged. In 2021, Midland Credit Management settled a class action for $17.5 million over FDCPA violations. Ka-ching!

Force Debt Collectors to Prove What You Owe

Debt collectors often lack proper documentation about debts they’re trying to collect. Don’t let them pressure you to pay something you might not actually owe!

Under the FDCPA, you have the right to request validation of any debt. Send a debt validation letter demanding proof of what you owe. Collectors then have 30 days to verify the debt is legit. If they can’t…sayonara debt!

Here’s a nifty sample debt validation letter from the CFPB. Send it certified mail and get ready to celebrate when the collector fails to respond or verify squat. Cha-ching!

Don’t Tolerate Threats or False Statements

Debt collectors often resort to threats and lies to pressure people into paying. Don’t fall for these common tactics:

  • “We’ll ruin your credit score!” – They can’t tank your credit without legal basis.
  • “We’ll garnish your wages!” – Only if they sue and win in court, which is unlikely.
  • “We’ll put a lien on your house!” – Same deal…lots of legal hoops to jump through first.
  • “If you don’t pay today, we’ll sue tomorrow!” – Lawsuits take months, not overnight.
  • “You’ll be arrested for not paying this debt!” – Debtor’s prison went out with the pilgrims, my friend.

Bottom line — don’t let empty threats freak you out. Get educated on debt collection laws so you can call BS on harassment. Here are some additional tips for dealing with debt collectors:

Don’t let them pressure you into agreeing to anything over the phone. Debt collectors often try to get you to make a payment right away before you have time to think it through. Tell them you need time to review your records and will get back to them. Then make sure the debt is really yours before paying.

Watch out for “robo-calls.” These are prerecorded calls that try to get you to pay by providing options to press buttons. Don’t press anything or provide info. Report robo-calls to the FTC.

Never give bank account or credit card numbers to a suspicious caller claiming to be a debt collector. Dishonest collectors could clean out your accounts.

Screen calls and let unknown numbers go to voicemail. Check messages later when you have time to think clearly. Legit collectors will leave a callback number.

Keep detailed records of all communications. Log dates, times, names, companies, and notes on what was said. This creates a paper trail.

Learn your state’s statutes of limitations. In many states, collectors can’t sue you for debts more than 3-6 years past due. The clock starts ticking from the last payment.

Don’t panic if threatened with legal action. Many collectors make empty threats just to scare people. Take time to verify debts and consult a consumer lawyer if sued.

Bottom line — you have power when dealing with debt vultures! Educate yourself on your rights and don’t let them intimidate you.

Delancey Street is here for you

Our team is available always to help you. Regardless of whether you need advice, or just want to run a scenario by us. We take pride in the fact our team loves working with our clients - and truly cares about their financial and mental wellbeing.

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