Creditor Harassment: FDCPA Guidelines and Debtor Rights

The more people that face financial difficulties in a troubled economy, the more will face debt collectors who may be difficult and harassing, but there are FDCPA guidelines to protect debtors from harassment. Debtors must be aware of these guidelines, however, and know how to pursue justice and stop debt collector harassment when they step over the line.

FDCPA Guidelines

The FDCPA is the federal Fair Dept Collection Practices Act, which provides specific regulations with which third party collection agencies must comply. Those regulations govern every type of action a collection agency could take that would constitute harassment and specifically prohibits them. These regulations do not apply to original creditors, but third party creditors only. Those are agencies that work on a contingency basis to collect the debts owed to original creditors. If none of the debt is collected, the agency is generally paid nothing. Therefore, it is in their interests to exert any amount of pressure they can to force payment. It is up to debtors to put a stop to those practices that are illegal and fall into the category of harassment. Those prohibited actions include:

  • Repeated annoying calls or calls after hours (which are generally between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.)
  • Calls to the debtor when they are represented by an attorney
  • Calls to the debtor's workplace when the employer prohibits it
  • The use of obscene or profane language
  • Threats of violence
  • The use of deception (such as claiming to be attorneys when they are not)
  • Adding interest or other fees that are unauthorized
  • Contacting third parties for anything other than information about the debtor's location or contact information

Dealing with Harassment

When a collection agency fails to comply with the FDCPA guidelines, there are steps that a debtor can take to protect their rights. However, it is generally not effective to attempt these efforts after just one act of harassment. The debtor should document the phone calls and letters they receive from the collection agency and show a pattern of abuse before proceeding to the following steps:

  • Contact the collection agency and warn them that they are being abusive and that if they do not stop the harassment, steps will be taken to stop them
  • File a complaint with the FTC including all documentation and outside evidence, and send copies to the state agency, the original creditor, and the collection agency
  • File a lawsuit against the collection agency, which, if won, will result in compensation for any real damages to the debtor (such as therapy costs for anxiety or stress from the harassment, the cost of changing a phone number to avoid calls, the lost income from losing a job), plus a statutory damage award of $1,000, as well as attorney's fees and court costs

(See more on what to do if your being harassed by debt collection agencies).

Getting Legal Help with Creditor Harassment

While the guidelines in the FDCPA are very clear, that does not mean that filing a complaint or lawsuit is always easy. If the lawsuit fails, the debtor may be required to pay the attorney's fees of the collection agency and court costs, making their debt situation even worse. It may be wise to consult a consumer protection lawyer to assess their case and help them compile a strong one before they decided whether they have grounds to take the collection agency to court.

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