Bill collectors do not have free reign to harass debtors in their attempts to collect what is owed, at least not according to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). There are many restrictions on the methods third party bill collectors can use, and if they violate those restrictions, the debtor has the right to file a complaint or, in worst cases, file a lawsuit. However, they must remember that this law only applies to third party bill collectors, not original creditors. In addition, it takes more than one instance of an abuse to bring about enforcement efforts by the FTC or justification for a lawsuit in the court system.
The truth is, many debts are being consigned to third party bill collectors today, making it more likely than ever that those who are calling most debtors are not the original creditors. That means that these collectors are required to follow the restrictions listed in the FDCPA. Those restrictions are far from unreasonable, and only serve to protect debtors from harassment when they are already in a difficult situation.
The restrictions found in the FDCPA prohibit bill collectors from:
If such behavior occurs, the debtor should document the instances, with date, time, and action, to have a log they can use to report repeated abuse when appropriate. At that point, they should file a complaint with the FTC, with all the appropriate documentation. The debtor should also send copies to the local governing body of debt collection agencies in their state, to the original creditor, and to the third party collection agency. If that does not stop the abuse, they have the right to file a lawsuit against the collection agency. If they win their case, they will often be able to collect actual damages, such as compensation for any type of counseling for anxiety produced by the harassment, the cost of changing telephone numbers, and more. They will also collect statutory damages of $1,000, and lawyer and court fees as well. However, they must keep in mind that the statute of limitations on such suits is generally one year from the abusive event.
There have been many thousands of FDCPA complaints and lawsuits, but many have been frivolous and dismissed. The plaintiff is often charged all legal fees and court costs in those cases. As a result, it is important to be sure that there are grounds to file such a suit before entering the courtroom. A consumer rights attorney can help a debtor determine if they have a case, and how best to file it.