If you are behind on your bills and on the receiving collection phone calls, you will probably hear collectors make some very threatening statements. Here is how to recognize illegal collection call tactics.
While most debt collection professionals try to stay within the boundaries defined by the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), many others cross the line on a regular basis.
Consumers complain about the collection industry more than most other industries combined.
Collection professionals would probably respond that the enormous size of the industry and the sheer volume of collection activity accounts for a large number of complaints.
However, only a small percentage of violations are actually reported by consumers. So the data collected by the FTC represents only a tiny fraction of the true scope of the problem.
Even so, a pattern of abusive and illegal collection activity has been well documented by the FTC, and it is getting worse instead of better.
Here are some common threats made by debt collectors:
“We’re going to take your house unless you pay this bill immediately.” This is a bogus threat. Unless the debt is a mortgage or home equity loan.
The creditor does not have the power to take your house away from you.
“If you don’t pay this bill today, we’re going to have a warrant issued for your arrest.” Nonsense. Failure to pay a debt is a civil matter, not a criminal matter.
Threatening a debtor with jail time or accusing them of committing a crime is totally against the rules.
“We don’t care that you sent a cease communication notice. We’re going to call you anyway.” The FDCPA gives you the right to terminate contact efforts by a debt collector.
Failure to respect a cease communication notice is a clear violation of Federal law.
“We’re going to garnish your wages to recover this debt.” A collector can only threaten action it has the legal authority to take, and the vast majority of collection agencies have zero legal authority.
Your wages can only be garnished by a creditor after they have won a judgment against you in a lawsuit.
“We know where you live, so you better pay up.” Yes, threats of violence still happen in this industry.
Nearly 300 complaints against collectors received by the FTC last year cited the threat of violence as the cause of the complaint. This is absolutely illegal.
Aside from the usual bogus threats, collectors also use other tactics that are illegal.
For example, discussing your debt with a third party is a clear violation of the FDCPA. Yet collectors routinely call neighbors, relatives, and employers to obtain information on debtors.
So long as the collector does not discuss the actual matter of the debt, they still have their toes on the right side of the line. But as soon as they mention or even hint that they are calling about a debt, they have crossed the line.
Since many debtors have taken to screening their phone calls at home to cut down on the relentless barrage, debt collectors frequently call them at work, when they can obtain the number.
In theory, a consumer can get the collector to stop calling their workplace simply by stating that they are not allowed to receive personal phone calls at work.
This puts the collector on notice that such activity constitutes interference with the consumer’s employment, which is not permitted. In practice, however, collectors routinely ignore this rule and continue to call at work.
There are many other techniques of harassment and intimidation that cross the line from permissible to impermissible collection activity.
Use of obscene or profane language, shouting, constant and unrelenting telephone calls, failure to respond to written disputes, and publication of debtor information all constitute illegal activity as defined by the FDCPA.
So if you are on the receiving end of illegal collection actions, what can you do to protect yourself?
First and foremost, it’s important to know and understand your rights as a consumer. A description of your rights under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act may be obtained directly from the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fdc.htm).
If a collector has violated your rights in their attempt to collect from you, then file a formal complaint.
You can file a complaint with the Attorney General for your state (www.naag.org) as well as the Federal Trade Commission.
If enough complaints are received about a particular collector, then authorities have the power to bring an enforcement action against them.
This may result in expensive fines that will make the agency or collector think twice about using such tactics.
You also have the right to bring a lawsuit yourself against a collector that harasses or abuses you.
One final point. The FDCPA technically only applies to third-party debt collectors, which includes collection agencies and collection attorneys. It does not apply to the original creditor when collecting their own debt. For example, if you borrow money from a bank, the bank is not regulated by the FDCPA.
However, numerous other public laws protect consumers from deceptive or abusive collection practices even by original creditors.
Many states have laws that parallel the FDCPA. But, some go further to include original creditors in the definition of debt collector.
So if an original creditor is harassing you or has crossed the line; you should still file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General as well as the FTC.
If a clear pattern of abuse emerges, you can charge the original creditor with unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
You can accomplished this under state law.
Or, under the FTC Act that governs the conduct of commerce in our country.
If you are on the receiving end of collection harassment, don’t just take it. Educate yourself on your rights as a consumer. Vigorously dispute debts that you don’t believe you owe.
And, take action yourself in the form of complaints to your Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission.
By standing up for your rights, you can put a stop to bogus threats and illegal collection tactics.
Are you ready to get your debt under control? If so, check out the resources recommended to you by Inker Street Consumer Credit Advice.
- Household Budgeting: This guide will show you how to stick to your budget. So, soon you will have a monthly surplus, and you will see your savings start to grow.
- Debt Consolidation Strategies: When it comes to debt consolidation, you need to practice techniques that are a little unique and very much focused on getting you out of debt within a stipulated period of time.
- Debt Destroyer: Finally you can fully equip yourself with these “must-have” tools for busting debt and live a life without having to worry about debt collectors!