If you’ve ever been bullied, intimidated, or lied to by a debt collector, you’re not alone. Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report receiving more consumer complaints about debt collection than any other issue. In 2017, the FTC reported more than 615,000 reports about debt collectors. The CFPB receives a lower volume of complaints, but debt collection still claimed the number one slot.
According to the CFPB’s 2016 Consumer Response Annual Report, complaints against debt collectors included:
- Continued efforts to collect a debt not owed (41%)
- Failure to make required disclosures, provide notice of right to dispute, or properly verify disputed debts (20%)
- Prohibited communication tactics, such as frequent telephone calls, calling outside hours permitted, or using profane or abusive language (15%)
- False statements or representations (9%)
- Taking or threatening illegal action, such as threatening arrest if the debt is not paid, or suing in the wrong jurisdiction (9%)
- Improper contact or sharing of information (6%)
Even if you haven’t personally been the victim of a dishonest or abusive debt collector, you’ve undoubtedly heard horror stories from friends, read them online, and seen bewildering news reports about debt collector abuses.
Now, however, American consumers are fighting back against debt collectors who don’t play by the rules. And, many are collecting checks from the debt collectors who were trying to squeeze money out of them.
Flipping the Script on Dishonest and Abusive Debt Collectors
When you’re plagued by a debt collector who won’t follow the rules, your gut instinct may be to hide out: stop answering the phone, let the mail pile up, and keep your head in the sand for as long as possible. Or, you may be willing to do whatever it takes to stop the harassment, including divert critical funds away from current expenses or enter into a payment arrangement you can’t afford. While those impulses are understandable, they’re rarely the best approaches for you and your family.
In recent years, many consumers have been taking a very different approach: going on the offensive and suing the debt collectors who harass, deceive, and otherwise treat them unfairly.
While the number of consumer financial protection lawsuits fluctuates from year to year, the overall trend sends a clear message: people just like you are fed up with debt collector abuses, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
Consumer Financial Protection Litigation by Statute
|Federal Statute||2001 Lawsuits||2017 Lawsuits||Percent Increase|
|Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)||1,323||9,784||639.5%|
|Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)||520||4,346||735.7%|
The past several years have also seen a significant increase in litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), although some of that increase is attributable to amendments to the statute.
Your Guide to Fighting Back
If you’re fed up with debt collector abuses and ready to fight back, here’s how you can get started:
Know Your Rights
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides powerful protections for consumers, but you can’t assert your rights if you don’t know the rules. Under the FDCPA, third party debt collectors are prohibited from:
- Calling you at unreasonable hours, typically defined as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- Contacting you at work if they have been advised that your employer objects
- Threatening violence or harm
- Calling repeatedly for the purpose of harassing you or another person
- Using obscene language or profanity
- Making false or misleading statements
- Falsely creating the impression that communications are legal documents
- Giving false information about you to anyone else
- Using a fake company name or refusing to disclose the company name when contacting you
- Trying to collect fees or interest not provided for in your contract or under state law
- Telling you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
- Falsely threatening legal action or consequences
- Contacting third parties except for the purpose of obtaining contact information for you
Document Debt Collector Actions
Debt collector harassment can begin to blur over time, especially if you’re receiving repeated telephone calls or dealing with more than one debt collector. Even if your head is clear, you may have trouble convincing a judge or jury that your memory is better than the debt collector’s records—and most won’t admit to breaking the rules.
To establish your claim, you’ll want to document every interaction with the debt collector, including those that don’t break the rules. A complete and accurate log of your interactions will help you keep the details straight and bolster the credibility of your recollections.
Keep a notebook or log sheet handy and record:
- The time of the call
- The number the call was placed from
- The name of the company given (or the fact that they refused to identify themselves)
- The name of the person you spoke with (or the fact that they refused to identify themselves)
- A summary of the content of the conversation, including:
- Any threats or misrepresentations made by the debt collector
- Direct quotes of vulgar or abusive language, threats, or other violations to the extent possible
- Any requests you made, such as to cease contact or not call you at work
Save or document voicemail messages as well, and log repeated calls that went unanswered even if the debt collector did not leave a message.
Don’t Dodge Debt Collectors
No one wants to talk to a debt collector, and that’s especially true when the debt collector is dishonest, abusive, attempting to collect a debt you do not owe, or otherwise not playing by the rules. However, when you opt not to pick up the phone, you give the debt collector an excuse for those constant attempts.
Picking up the phone and taking virtually any action cuts off that excuse. For example, you might:
- Ask the debt collector to stop calling you
- Attempt to negotiate a reasonable payment plan (if the debt is legitimate)
- Advise the debt collector that you don’t have any money to put toward the debt at this time
Or, send a cease and desist letter in the mail, advising the debt collector to stop contacting you. Remember, though, that the cease and desist letter is directed to the specific collector, not the debt. A debt may be shuffled from one debt collector to another, or may be sold and sold again. When that happens, you’ll have to send a new letter to each new collector.
When any of those things has occurred, the debt collector will have a much more difficult time claiming that the 30 robo-calls you received in a day were an honest attempt to reach you, or that they had a legitimate purpose for contacting your grandmother. And, you’ve created an opportunity for the collector to break new and different rules, such as the prohibition on contacting you after you’ve sent a cease and desist letter.
Get an Experienced, Dedicated Advocate on Your Team
Unfortunately, most debt collectors willing to engage in illegal, abusive and deceptive practices won’t clean up their acts simply because you object or ask them to stop calling. If debt collector harassment, abuse, or lying continues, your best next step is to connect with an experienced consumer financial protection attorney.
FDCPA litigation can not only stop bad debt collectors in their tracks but may also put money in your pocket. The law provides for statutory damages of up to $1,000, and the award could be higher if you have suffered actual harm as a result of the debt collector’s illegal actions.
Be Part of the Solution
Dishonest and abusive debt collectors thrive when consumers choose avoidance rather than direct action. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was written to protect consumers from harassment, abuse, and deception at the hands of bad debt collectors. But, the law is only as strong as the people who choose to enforce it. When you ignore dishonest debt collectors or allow yourself to be bullied into making a payment to escape the harassment, you reward the debt collector for bad behavior and help ensure that behavior will continue.
When you pick up the phone, document the behavior, and assert your rights, you become a powerful advocate for yourself and for other victims of debt collectors who refuse to obey the law. And, you may just take home a nice check, as well.