If you’ve ever been pursued by a debt collector, chances are good that you felt harassed. But, “debt collector harassment” has a specific legal meaning. And, when that line is crossed, the law protects consumers and creates a framework for fighting back. A consumer who has been harassed by a debt collector may even be entitled to statutory damages of up to $1,000, in addition to any actual damages suffered. In some cases, punitive damages may also be appropriate.
The first step toward protecting yourself is to understand what constitutes debt collector harassment, abuse, or other prohibited behavior. Without this knowledge, it is easy for a consumer to be confused or intimidated by what the debt collector says. If a debt collector has contacted you regarding a debt you allegedly owe, arm yourself with information. And, if you believe the debt collector has crossed the line, schedule a consultation with a local attorney who is experienced in handling debt collector harassment cases.
Some states have strong consumer protection laws. Others do not. But fortunately federal law provides protection for consumers in all states.
“We primarily represent consumers in the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee and have been able to utilize federal law to obtain monetary damages for our clients who have been harassed by abusive collectors.”
– Bond & Botes principal Brad Botes, Birmingham, Alabama
What is Debt Collector Harassment Under Federal Law?
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits a debt collector from engaging “in any conduct the natural consequences of which is to harass oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” While this provision may be applied to a wide range of debt collector actions, the statute provides the following specific examples:
- Repeatedly or continuously calling any person with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass the person at that number
- Most phone calls placed without disclosing the caller’s identity
- Using violence or other criminal behavior to harm the person or his or her reputation or property
- Threatening violence or other criminal action to harm the person or his or her reputation or property
- Using obscene or profane language
- Using language “the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader”
- Publishing a list of consumers who are alleged to have refused to pay debts (with some exceptions, such as providing information to credit reporting agencies
- Advertising a debt for sale as a means of coercing payment
This list is only a sampling of the protections provided by the FDCPA. Actions that are not listed here may be found to constitute harassment. And, harassment and abuse is just one category of debt collector behavior that is covered by the statute. The federal law also places restrictions on when, where and how a debt collector may communicate with the person alleged to owe the debt or a third party. And, debt collectors are prohibited from employing false or misleading representations and unfair practices in their collection efforts.
“Collectors sometimes send letters to consumers who have sought bankruptcy protection demanding payment for a debt that was included in their bankruptcy. We review these letters closely and bring suit asserting violation of the FDCPA if false or misleading language is included.”
– Bond & Botes attorney Grant McNutt, Florence, Alabama
The FDCPA also imposes certain affirmative responsibilities, such as notice and disclosure requirements.
Who is a Debt Collector Under the FDCPA?
It is important to note that the federal FDCPA does not apply to original creditors. For purposes of this consumer protection statute, “debt collector” means a business that regularly collects or attempts to collect debts owed to someone else. The most common examples of entities covered by the statute are collection agencies and debt buyers.
If you’ve been the victim of debt collection abuses, we may be able to help. Just schedule a free consultation to learn more about your rights and options. You can get started right now by calling 877-581-3396 or filling out the contact form on this page.
Brad Botes is a principal of each of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He and his team of bankruptcy lawyers have spent over 30 years guiding people through financial challenges. Read his full bio here.