When Is a Bill Collector Crossing a Line?

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Times are stressful right now. Unemployment is still high and many families are living paycheck to paycheck. The last thing you want to deal with is a debt collector. However, if a debt you owe has been sold to a debt collection agency, you might find yourself having to unplug your phone to keep it from ringing off the hook. Debt collectors are known to be persistent but some cross the line into harassment.

Even though it is against the law for bill collectors to use certain tactics to collect a debt, some do it anyway. Everyone should know what a debt collector can and cannot legally do.

A bill collector is crossing the line when they commit any of the following actions:

  • Threaten to take your home. A debt collector cannot take your home unless that home was used to secure a debt like a mortgage or home equity loan.
  • Threaten to have you arrested. No debt collector can threaten to have you arrested for any debt you owe. A debt is a civil matter, not a criminal matter.
  • Threaten to garnish your wages to collect the debt. The only way a debt collector can garnish your wages is if it is taken to court and they won a judgment to garnish the wages.
  • Ignore a cease communication letter. Once you send the debt collector a cease communication letter, they have to stop contacting you.
  • Physical threats of any kind. Any kind of threat implying that you will be harmed unless you pay the debt is against federal law.

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers about debt collectors that cross the line using the above illegal tactics.

Federal Law

The federal law that protects us against illegal tactics used by some debt collectors is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This law basically prohibits debt collectors from using unfair, deceptive, and abusive tactics to collect a debt. The types of debts covered by the FDCPA include:

  • Credit cards
  • Medical debts
  • Mortgages
  • Auto loans
  • Student loans
  • Other personal or family loans

The FDCPA does not usually cover business loans.

Debt collectors cannot harass you by calling you at odd hours. They cannot call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. your local time, unless agreed to by you. They cannot contact you at work if you told them not to.

If a debt collector knows that you are being represented by an attorney, they cannot contact except through your attorney.

How To Protect Yourself

The best way to protect yourself is to know the law. Do not allow debt collectors to harass you in any way. Keep a diary of everything. What time they call, and if they used any type of harassing language. Save all messages or texts they leave on your phone.

Another illegal practice is for debt collectors to attempt to collect on zombie debts. A zombie debt is a debt that you might have owed a long time ago, and is now past the statute of limitations. For most debts, this statute of limitations is seven years. The time frame and type of debt can vary from state to state.

What You Can Do

If a debt collector harasses or threatens you, you can sue the debt collector. According to the FDCPA, victims of debt collection harassment can get compensation for statutory damages and possibly from actual damages also.

Statutory Damages

Statutory damages are paid above and beyond the actual damages. The FDCPA states that consumers can recover damages up to $1,000. A victim of illegal debt collector actions does not have to prove these violations caused any harm, just that they occurred.

Actual Damages

These damages include money you lost because of a debt collector’s abuse. These damages can be for lost wages, illegal penalties, attorney fees, and can include emotional damage that led to medical costs.

This is just a brief overlook of the illegal debt collection practices you may encounter. To learn more about your rights during debt collection, or if you think a debt collector is using illegal practices to force you to pay a debt, you should seek legal counsel.

Your lawyer can help you obtain a debt verification letter. Before you pay anything, you want to make sure you actually owe the debt. Your lawyer can handle all correspondence so there’s absolutely no reason for you to handle debt collector harassment alone.