By: Lance Raphael, Esq. of the Consumer Advocacy Center

Are you feeling dread from calls to your home, your cell phone and your work?  Have you started to dodge phone calls and avoid opening the mail? Well stop right now, when you finish reading this, your guilt and fear will be replaced with knowledge and power.

First, start with this simple understanding; everyone, including the very debt collector calling you, is in debt. Debt is an important part of American business.  GM, Chrysler and Ford felt no “shame” when they couldn’t pay their bills; their CEOs even flew to Washington in private jets to ask for a bailout. The same with the banks, already in debt, asking for billions more from us tax payers. In fact, in 2012, approximately 30 million individuals, or 14% of American adults, had debt that was or had been subject to the collections process.[1] So, since debt is NOT a crime or shameful, but part of our economy, you need to know that collecting debt must be done in a professional way without, harassment, abuse, or deception.

The problem is that so many debt collectors sought to take advantage of misplaced guilt over owing money that collection abuse ran rampant. As a result, in 1977 the United States Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 or the FDCPA. The FDCPA outlines when, how and what can be said by a debt collector. To curb abuses by third-party debt collection agencies the FDCPA prohibits harassment, threats, unwanted calls to work or cell phones and disclosing the existence of debts to friends or co-workers. In other words, the law explains the “way” debts can legally be collected.

Even though the FDCPA is has been around more than 30 years, the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 stated that it still received more complaints about the debt collection industry than any other specific industry, more than 199,721 complaints to be exact. As a result, the importance of knowing your rights to protect yourself is crucial.  If your rights are violated and you gathered up the evidence to prove the violation you could recover from the debt collector up to $1,000.00 in statutory damages, actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

The right to not be abused or harassed does not simply “go away” just because you owe a debt. As a result, open the mail, answer the phone, keep copies of all correspondence, keep a log or journal of the day and time of calls. Don’t ignore letters, phone calls or court notices. Record conversations if the debt collectors’ greeting states the call may be monitored or recorded, than you can too.

Treat the debt collection process as you would any other job, act like you would in any other business. When you get a call, write down, who called, what did they say, when did they call, what number did they call from, ask them questions, what is their address, telephone and fax number, e-mail address. If you send something to them, make sure you have proof they received it, like a fax receipt, e-mail confirmation or certified mail receipt.

Be aware of these common abuses in the collection industry:

  • Repeated calls using an automated caller to your cellular phone.
  • Calling your cellular telephone when you have asked the collector to stop. 
  • Repeated calls to your work when you have asked the collector to stop.
  • Repeated calls to your home after you have written the collector to stop.
  • Sending you text messages or e-mails when you have asked them to stop.
  • Calling your telephone before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm.
  • The collector used obscene or abusive language.
  • Trying to collect an amount that you really don’t owe.
  • Trying to collect more than you really owe.
  • Trying to collect an amount past the statute of limitations.
  • Threatening to file suit on a debt which they really wont sue on, such as under $500.00 debt.
  • Threatening to falsely garnish wages, seize property, repossess property, cause you to lose your job, to call your employer, or damaging your credit rating.
  • Adding fees and charges to your debt which are not legal.
  • Debt collectors trying to pretend they are a lawyer when they are not.
  • Suing you in the wrong place, where you don’t live or where you didn’t live when you created the debt.
  • Threatening to violate your right to privacy by talking to others about your debt. If they threaten or actually contact your employer or co-worker or friends or family this may also violate the Act.
  • Continuing to contact the consumer after being informed in writing to cease contact.

If your consumer rights have been violated by illegal or abusive tactics, contact us today for a free telephone consultation. Owing a debt does not give a debt collector the right to treat you unfairly.

If you think you have been the victim of unfair practices of a debt collector, contact us for a free telephone evaluation of your debt collection issues. If a debt collector is found to have violated the FDCPA:

You may be entitled to up to $1,000.00 in statutory damages as well as any actual damages, plus payment of your reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in bringing the suit, even if you owe the debt.


[1]  Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit (November 2012), available at: http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/national_economy/householdcredit/

Categories: Legal

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